Carefully selected outfits, fresh haircuts — and even for some, a fresh or carefully selected mask — were the stars as thousands of Clark County students returned to class to ring in a new school year.
Tuesday was the first day of school for the area’s largest districts, Evergreen and Vancouver, plus Camas, Ridgefield, Washougal and Woodland. More districts start today.
An extra layer of excitement for the first day also came with an extra layer of concern as COVID-19 collides with a third consecutive school year. Gov. Jay Inslee’s mask mandate requires all students, teachers and staff to wear masks inside school buildings. Additionally, all school employees must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18.
That’s all part of why some believe it could be another difficult school year. But that was far from several students’ minds on their first day of 2021-22.
New era at Marrion
At Evergreen’s Marrion Elementary, second-grader Mariama Sandy hand-picked a special outfit to commemorate being at a new school: a fancy princess dress.
“It’s my first day, and I’m super excited,” the 7-year-old said. She said she looked forward to school’s library, learning and making new friends on her first day. She attended Ellsworth Elementary last year.
Mariama’s mom, Isatu Sandy, expressed excitement and sadness as she waited with other parents to escort her daughter inside the school.
“Throughout the pandemic, we were together a long time — us two together — and now she’s leaving for school,” Isatu Sandy said.
The first day of school also ushered in a new era at Marrion and its brand-new two-story building. Marrion students and staff spent last year at the old Image Elementary campus, and Marrion and Ellsworth elementaries each had ribbon-cutting ceremonies last week to celebrate official grand openings. Both are part of the $695 million bond Evergreen voters passed in February 2018 to rebuild 10 schools and upgrade other district facilities.
“It’s been a lot of transition, so this feels grounding and coming home,” Principal Jenna Schofer said.
Schofer spent part of the morning before Marrion’s 8:40 a.m. start time introducing kindergarten families and students to their teachers. One by one, classes of kindergartners paraded inside the building with their new teachers and classmates.
Schofer said making sure students and parents feel safe and comfortable about how to navigate the school is a top priority.
“We want to get them (students) into their classrooms as soon as possible, but we’re a brand new building,” she said. “We don’t know how to navigate this space.
“Everyone is learning together.”
Mitigations still in place
Tuesday also was the start of complete resumption of full-time, in-person learning. Districts are required to offer full-time instruction five days a week after a 2020-21 school year complicated with remote learning, hybrid instruction and multiple transitions.
Classes five days a week without remote learning is a welcomed change.
New Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Snell, along with Bill Oman, the district’s executive director of learning and programs, visited six elementaries on their first-day tour. It concluded at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary during lunch.
Visiting with staff and students and watching various schools’ processes and procedures in play are part of the routine, but another takeaway for Snell is giving thanks to staff. He plans to check in with secondary schools later in the week.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Snell said. “All the work that goes into starting a school year, a lot of happy first days. And letting staff know we appreciate all the effort that goes into getting ready for kids.”
King officially opened its new building at 4801 Idaho St. last year, but as Principal Adley Copeland put it, the school’s official first day came Tuesday. Like other schools locally, King had multiple first days in the spring welcoming students back in a hybrid format.
Much of what students and staff got accustomed to in 2020-21 is still in place, including plexiglass in select areas, physical distancing, hand hygiene and cleaning and disinfecting. Daily attestation forms and temperature checks are no longer required.
Part of King’s new building design includes an outdoor space with benches and turfed areas for seating. Last spring, the school used that space as part of its mitigation strategies with hybrid instruction, and Copeland said students enjoyed it so much that he elected to keep the outdoor lunches as an option moving forward … as long as the weather cooperates.
Tuesday, it did. All students ate outdoors, making it a bright spot for many.
“It’s quite nice, because you get to have fresh air while eating,” said fifth-grader Aaliyah Lokenberg.
Many students said they’re now used to learning while wearing masks, but still adapting.
Fellow fifth-grader Jackson Mendez hoped to get to know more students as the first day progressed.
It had been a while since Jackson saw as many students in one setting as he did Tuesday. And that’s a good thing, he said.
“It’s kind of busy here,” the 10-year-old said.