For most kindergartners and first-graders in Seaside, school’s back in session — or more specifically, back on campus.

Pacific Ridge Elementary School was alive with a distinctly “first-day-of-school” vibe last Tuesday, when in-person instruction resumed for a couple cohorts of young students.

“It’s definitely a very similar energy to September, August,” assistant principal Jeremy Catt said, noting his own elementary-aged student was so excited she was up, dressed and ready to go in the early morning. As students arrived and connected with the teachers they previously knew only from Zoom interactions, Catt said, “There was a lot of, ‘I know you.’”

“Today was definitely a ‘bucket-filler,’” he said. “It was great to see and feel that energy of being back at school that we’ve missed for so long. You can’t replicate that online.”

The excitement was accompanied by a bit of trepidation and uncertainty. Principal Juli Wozniak said she could see the emotion in the eyes of parents who were dropping their kids off at school for the first time. The whole situation was made more unusual because parents and guardians couldn’t go inside the building or visit their student’s classroom, as would be tradition, because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“Overall, they were happy to give them a hug at the car,” Wozniak said.

The returning students have been split into two cohorts. Half of the students come for instruction in the morning on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. They are picked up and dropped off by their guardians. The other half of the students — who take the bus to and from the elementary school — arrive in the early afternoon.

This is just one example of the all new routines that students, teachers and other staff are growing accustomed to as they return to campus, Catt said.

Everyone is required to wear a mask. There are different visual cues placed throughout the building, such as painted puffin feet on the floor and ropes with handles on them, to show students where to stand and move. They each have their designated spot in their classroom. Teachers are introducing fun and creative ways to help the kids remember to stay an arm’s length away from others when they’re walking around.

“They’re all doing an amazing job following instructions,” Wozniak said of the students, noting they hardly had any issues with the mask-wearing.

On March 1, second and third graders will return to campus, with fourth and fifth graders joining on March 16 after an in-service day. Wozniak appreciates the phasing-in approach for a couple different reasons.

First, the Pacific Ridge building is a relatively new environment for all students. Not only are the Seaside kindergartners attending a brick-and-mortar elementary school for the first time, but former Gearhart Elementary School students, teachers and staff have also been moved to the campus this year.

“It’s a brand new school for them,” Wozniak said. “None of them have been here.”

Even returning students might have difficulty recognizing the building since it was completely remodeled as part of the new campus project that is wrapping up.

Gradually bringing students back in smaller groups enables administrators and teachers to feel confident about the health and safety practices being implemented, Wozniak said. “It’s best for us to get our procedures in place and make sure we’re doing everything right.”

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