It’s High-Fives and Smiles for The First Day Back to School in Pasadena

Students from John Muir High School are welcome back to school with high-fives and smiles from the new Pasadena Interim Superintendent Dr. David Verdugo and about 30 African American men from the community.The new Pasadena interim Superintendent Dr. David Verdugo gives high fives to John Muir High School students on the first day of school.Jeremy Brown a sophomore at John Muir High School receives high fives as he enters the campus on the first day.John Muir High School students are all smiles as the enter the campus on the first day of school after receiving high-fives and smiles from the new Pasadena Interim Superintendent Dr. David Verdugo and about 30 African American men from the community.Pasadena Public Safety Officer Michelle White takes part in high-fives and smiles with about 30 African American men from the Community at John Muir High School.William Syms greets John Muir High School students with hands shakes on the first day of school.David Hernandez a junior at John muir High School wears a class of 2021 shirt on the first day of school.Pasadena Vice Mayor Tyrone Hampton takes part in high-fives and smiles at John Muir High School with the new Pasadena Interim Superintendent Dr. David Verdugo and about 30 African American men from the community.The new Pasadena interim Superintendent Dr. David Verdugo thanks everyone who took part in high-fives and smiles at John Muir High School. John Muir High School welcomes the class of 2023 on the first day of school.

By DONNA BALANCIA | Photography by JAMES CARBONE

2:30 pm | August 12, 2019


It was the first day back to school for roughly 16,000 pre-K through 12th graders throughout Pasadena schools today and they were greeted with smiles and high-fives as they made their way to class.

Students were greeted by enthusiastic well-wishers as part of a program started by Williams Syms, where African-American men give high-fives, good wishes and greetings to students as they head back to school.

The annual event, which involves a group of about 100 African American men from the community is intended to encourage the students to have a great year and try their best to be successful.

Returning students at John Muir High School — some 870 high schoolers — sported their new back-to-school clothes as they moved through the line of greeters.

The program is now an annual ritual, started four years ago by Williams Syms, John Muir High School alum and director of the Trio Talent Search mentoring program at Pasadena City College.

“It was a great day, we’re in year four,” he said. “The difference this year is I think the students were more awake than they normally are. It was great to see the joy on the faces of the students and the people involved.”

Syms said he started the program so students could feel the support.

“It was happening all around the country I didn’t understand why it wasn’t happening in Pasadena,” he said. “As a student at Muir I would have loved that.” Syms graduated Muir in 2001.

For the most part, the students enjoyed the first-day greetings, laughing and getting into the spirit of the morning. Interim Superintendent Dr. David Verdugo was on hand to wish the students well.

“With the start of the new school year, we have new opportunities and challenges to continue improving the student experience in PUSD,” said Brian McDonald, Superintendent and Verdugo in a joint statement. “In 2019-2020, we will continue to focus on excellence through equity so that every student succeeds. We will continue our efforts around increasing the effectiveness of the systems that serve our students and schools. Finally, we will work to ensure that every member of the PUSD community understands our district’s mission and how they connect to it.”

As for traffic on the first day back, Lt. Mark Goodman of the Pasadena Police Department Traffic Section said things went smoothly.

“I did not hear any major issues associated with morning drop off,” he said. “We visited several schools with the goal of assisting parents getting back into the swing of things.”

Goodman added some tips for keeping things safe throughout the year.

“The focus is on safety,” he said. “Obey the speed limit, look for pedestrians and bicyclists, and leave early to avoid the stress of being late.

Goodman added that parents and drivers should follow four other important rules:

– Follow parking and drop off plans provided by school officials
– Adopt a safety mindset
– Do not double park or park in red zones
– Watch for school busses and stop when directed for students entering and exiting busses