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Highland Elementary welcomes students for the first day

Students at Highland Elementary sit on the playground with their class ahead of the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 24. The district has implanted a hybrid program which requires students to be in the building every-other-day. (Gretchen Teske/The Union)
Students at Highland Elementary sit on the playground with their class ahead of the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 24. The district has implanted a hybrid program which requires students to be in the building every-other-day. (Gretchen Teske/The Union)
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RIVERSIDE — It was the strangest, yet most calm, first day of school in history.

Armed with Clorox wipes and reusable water bottles, 200 students filed into the parking lot of Highland Elementary Monday for the first day of school.

Principal Jane O’Leary said in her 26 years as an educator, she has never seen a first day so relaxed. Usually, parents are asking for pictures, chatting with other parents and helping their student to their classroom.

This year, everything was different.

Parents were only allowed to bring their students to a fenced in area in the corner of the parking lot where the student then met their teacher and class to wait together until it was time to go inside. Despite having to wear masks, kids seemed carefree as they hugged their teachers and chatted with friends they missed over the last few months.

“We’re all definitely testing the waters, but I think this is our best choice to keep all our students and staff as safe as possible. I think this is a great way for us to start,” said first-grade teacher Rebeca Yoder.

The district has chosen to implement a hybrid system that allows a specific group of students on one day and the rest of the students on the other. The students are put in alphabetical order by their last names and split evenly, alternating days they can attend.

Yoder said she would like to have all the students back in the classroom, but for now, the adjustments being made will do.

Carrie Wieland, an associate in the special education department, said she really liked the hybrid choice and felt it was the safest option for students returning to the classrooms.

The first two weeks are going to be a challenge and an adjustment period, she said, but overall staff are dedicated to doing what they can to ensure students are in the building.

O’Leary echoed that sentiment, saying she felt everyone was eager to get students back into the classrooms and so far, there were no issues with the mandated masks.

“Everybody seems to be doing really well with it,” she said. “We want the kids back.”