Students welcomed to a more normal first day of school

The usual first day of school feeling was still there with kids nervously locating their lockers and cubbies and warming up to another year of school.

The first day of school was a flurry of fun colors including masks as elementary kids stepped off buses Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary. Blossom and Aurora Koch arrived together and were greeted by a group of paraprofessionals eager to help welcome them to school. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

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.


Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary Principal Louis Rutten greets kids entering the school for the start of the 2021-2022 school year. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

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.

WDC kindergartners started the day off with breakfast in the classroom then a message from principal Louis Rutten by Zoom. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

"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.


Wadena-Deer Creek para Julie Taggart points the way for those exiting the bus on Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, the first day of school. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

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.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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