Community Education

First day of school: ‘Things are getting a little back to normal’

Posted on August 31st, 2022 By:

There were hugs and high fives. New backpacks, new shoes and carefully styled hair. There were a few nerves, a few tears and at least one wistful backward glance.

In short, it was a pretty typical first day of school Wednesday for students in the Peninsula School District. It felt … dare we say it? Normal.

Not since fall 2019 has the school year kicked off without social distancing in place to stem the spread of COVID-19. Masks are optional in K-12 schools, as they have been since March.

Students in first through 12th grades started classes Wednesday. Those in kindergarten will start Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Harbor Ridge Middle School principal Brian Wickens waves to an arriving bus on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Christina T Henry

Turning a corner

Little by little over the past couple of years, the pandemic has loosened its grip on how we go about our daily lives. This fall feels like we’ve turned a corner.

“It seems like things are getting a little back to normal,” said parent Melinda Blackwood, who with her husband Brian was dropping off second-grade daughter Joule and third-grade son Atom at Pioneer.

Pioneer Elementary School Principal Stephanie Strader, right, greets Joule Blackwood on her first day of second grade, Aug. 31, 2022, while her mom Melinda Blackwood looks on. Joule’s brother Atom is starting third grade. Christina T Henry

“We don’t have masks, social distancing, so it feels different,” said Lily Schultz, an eighth grader at Harbor Ridge Middle School. “Because half of the year we wore masks last year. And the year before that, it was entirely virtual almost.”

Schultz this year is looking forward to lunchtimes, actually sitting at a cafeteria table with friends … and lockers, which were not made available during much of the pandemic.


“That’s what we’re hoping for,” said Harbor Ridge Principal Brian Wickens, who is new to the position this year. “I’m just feeling totally excited. We’re excited to get the school year going. We’ve got new administration here in the building and are just looking forward to great things. You’ve got awesome staff, wonderful families and incredible students.”

‘A blessing’

Peninsula School District Superintendent Krestin Bahr, at an all-staff rally last week at Peninsula High School, reflected on what the world — and K-12 schools in particular — have been through.

Students and parents line up to enter school on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Christina T Henry

“We have survived the last two-and-a half years. We have faced the reality of things that we never thought we would have to do,” she told the staff.

Things like evaluating HEPA filters and implementing Covid testing protocols.

“You know, I just have to say many of the kids have not seen a normal school year since 2019,” Bahr said. “So that means your kinders through first grade. It’s been a whole different ballgame.”

Bahr said the pandemic has shifted perspectives on K-12 education in a way that would have been hard to predict before COVID-19 but that has its silver lining.

“I want us to think about this,” she said at the rally. “We have been given a blessing. We have been given a gift, because the world stopped, not just Peninsula School District, the world stopped in its tracks. We had an opportunity to really think about what matters. And look at where schools fell, straight in the middle of the national conversation.”

Wesley Cotter, 8, arrives for his first day of third grade at Pioneer Elementary School on Aug. 31, 2022, with his mom Lexie Cotter. Christina T Henry

Palpable excitement

Students stepping off the bus toting musical instruments. A cafeteria packed and buzzing before the first bell rings. A youngster posing for mom with a sign: “My First Day of 3rd Grade. I am 8 years old. I want to be a DJ when I grow up.” Normal, normal, normal.

Some kids seem already beyond the wonder of it. Besides, they’ve got other things to focus on, like the first day of middle school.

“I feel pretty confident because I know a lot of kids from lots of different schools,” said Jake Stock, a sixth grader sporting shades and walking into Harbor Ridge with a swagger. “And since this is pretty much a meeting place of all the different schools coming into here, I’ll know a lot of kids.”

Jake Stock arrives at Harbor Ridge Middle School for his first day of sixth grade. Christina T Henry

Bahr stood on the sidewalk Wednesday at Harbor Ridge, greeting students who passed giant balloon bouquets and smiling staff members as they headed inside.

“I am terribly excited for the 2022-23 school year as we greet and welcome our families back in, masks optional,” Bahr said. “It really is the first time that school seems a little bit more normal, and our families are just excited. Yeah, last year, we couldn’t even invite the families. So, it truly is a new year.”

Harbor Ridge Middle School assistant principal Scott Yingling points students toward their class on Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2022. Christina T Henry