It's hard to say what a normal first day of school looks like with the day being one filled with newness.
There's always a little bit of chaos, a little bit of unknown, but always an excitement from the youngest students to the most tenured staff member.
"It seems pretty normal," Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary Principal Louis Rutten said of the first day.
Aside from masks on the school buses, due to a federal mandate, kids were seated together in school with a bit of space in between without the masks they had to wear last year. There are still mitigation efforts in place like reminding everyone to wash hands and give each other some space during classroom instruction, according to Rutten.
What was perhaps most different were the eight new teachers and nine new paraprofessionals in the elementary. Much of the change was due to a lot of moving around by staff rather than retirements, Rutten said.
The staff have their hands full with some large elementary classes, including 85 kindergarteners, 89 first graders, 88 second graders, 79 third graders, and the biggest group, 93 fourth graders. Preschool has their first day on Sept. 20.
Instead of listening to Rutten give morning announcements over the intercom system, he used Zoom to speak to each classroom through screens in their rooms. The students got to know his calming voice and his smiling face as if he were right there. It was a change that had students enthralled in Mrs. Gallant's kindergarten class. It was a change administrative assistant Lisa Schmidt thought went over very well.
"Covid has definitely brought some good change," Schmidt said. The feeling of coming back together with a little less fear or distraction was welcome.
"I am so glad we're back," Schmidt said.
Out at the bus drop off, paraprofessionals said it was nice to have less focus on the pandemic and more focus on the student's learning. The student's smiles as they removed masks or face shields was a bonus.
"It's pretty typical," paraprofessional Julie Taggart said. "It's crazy, but good crazy getting everybody to where they need to be." Students were eating breakfast in their rooms, but the plan was to have lunch back in the cafeteria.
Almost everybody was ready for all the newness that the day had to bring. Those that need some convincing will have the next — hopefully normal — nine months to get comfortable.