First day of school sees a full return to classrooms

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The excitement of students in North County school districts filled the hallways of buildings as the first days of the 2021-2022 school year started this week for most of the area.

Students returned to buildings at Woodland Public Schools and the Ridgefield School District on Monday, Aug. 31, while Battle Ground Public Schools, Hockinson School District and Green Mountain School began classes the following day. La Center School District will start the school year on Sept. 7 as finishing touches are added to its new middle school.

This week marked the first full return to in-person instruction since 2019, as last year statewide guidance followed a continuation of remote instruction because of the coronavirus pandemic. Students streamed out of family cars and school buses in masks and were greeted by teachers similarly clad in facial coverings, as they entered classrooms with desks distanced at least 3 feet apart.

BGPS buildings started in-person classes for students in a staggered reopening, similar to other districts, becoming one of the largest districts in the state to go to five-day in-person instruction, BGPS Communications Officer Rita Sanders said. She, along with other district officials, visited buildings across the district as school started and stopped by Maple Grove Primary as classes began.

“We’re starting in-person and we’re so excited,” Sanders said. “Our students need this. Our staff need to be in-person.”

BGPS Superintendent Denny Waters also visited a number of schools on the first day, starting in the northern part of the district.

“I’ve been doing this now for 34 years and every first day of school has so much energy, so much excitement, so much passion, so much joy,” Waters said. “It’s one of the best days of the year as far as I’m concerned.”

Waters said teachers he encountered on the first day were happy to start the year off with students back in the building, especially since the district always felt in flux last school year. 

“It seems like last year … there was a lot of transition, so there was always change going on,” Waters said. 

Those experiences gave the district more confidence this year as it adheres to state guidelines on preventing COVID-19 outbreaks, he said. 

“There’s a lot of work that goes into making sure we can keep our students as safe and healthy as possible,” Waters said.

Sanders said the district is hopeful it won’t have to revert back to remote learning, but it would be able to make the changes if needed.

The day marked the first “first day” for Waters as district superintendent, taking over from Mark Ross, who retired at the end of the last school year. Waters, who served as deputy superintendent prior to the new role, noted he met new teachers having their own first days while on his tour of the district as it opened.

“Anything new comes with that excitement, a little bit of nerves wondering how it’s going to be,” Waters said. 

A few focuses for this year will center on recovering learning loss and re-engaging students, Waters said, as well as social-emotional support for students who were impacted by the last year-and-a-half during the pandemic. 

He acknowledged students’ families have also felt the impacts, pointing to a district slogan of “working better together,” which he said shaped a mentality to partner with the community for student success this year.

“If our community joins us in our mission to provide the highest quality of education for our kids, we can be very successful,” Waters said.

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