PORT TOWNSEND — Despite the face masks, temperature checks and otherworldly orange glow of smoke-strained sunlight, the first day of school in Port Townsend and Chimacum evoked familiar feelings of excitement and uncertainty for students and staff alike.
At Blue Heron Middle School, some 68 students arrived by bus and car to take their places in a well-spaced line before they had their temperatures checked with an infrared thermometer — a now-common cautionary measure meant to catch potential cases of coronavirus before they spread.
However, once students cleared that somewhat surreal first step, they hurried off in search of where to go next.
Dean of Students Brett Navin and his fellow school staff members stood by to intercept students, answering their questions and directing them to their classrooms — all spread out, grade-specific and accessible from outside-facing doors.
At one point, Navin spotted seventh-grader Owen Eades standing alone with “a quizzical look on his face.”
At his mother’s direction, Owen had gotten up, gotten dressed and gotten himself off to school only to find out this wasn’t his first day of school. Instead, he is in a cohort of another 69 Blue Heron students who will start in-person classes on Thursday.
“Today is about making sure we have all our procedures worked out and helping students make sense of this new approach to in-person school,” Navin said, glancing around to see if any other students needed help finding their way.
About 100 more Blue Heron students have opted for fully remote learning, while all Port Townsend high-schoolers have begun their school year remotely.
In-person classes for about 170 high school students divided into cohorts will kick off Sept. 22, with students on campus Tuesdays and Fridays.
Salish Coast Elementary will host its first cohort of 112 students for in-person classes Friday, with a second cohort of the same size starting Monday. Another 154 elementary students are starting their year fully remote.
Students at Blue Heron — no more than 15 per room — remain in the same classroom much of the day, including lunchtime, with a rotating cast of teachers for social studies, English and math, Navin said.
For science, art and physical education, however, straggling is encouraged as students walk in a physically distanced style to rooms equipped with necessary supplies.
As often as possible, teachers plan to take their students outside, where tents and chairs have been set up.
When Chimacum Elementary students showed up for their first day Tuesday, they didn’t get the usual 20 minutes of recess before they went into the classroom. Instead, much like at Blue Heron, they reported to health screening stations marked with orange cones — standing well apart — to get their temperatures checked.
“For kids especially, social distancing is not normal or easy,” said Principal Jason Lynch. “But today, the kids were very conscientious about social distancing and wearing their masks, so I’m happy to report everything went smoothly.”
Each grade has a separate outdoor entrance to the elementary school building, and multiple, small-group recesses are held throughout the day, Lynch said.
Most of Chimacum’s elementary students who came back to school Tuesday were already equipped with Chromebooks they had received during the spring because the district allowed families to hang on to them over the summer, Lynch said.
“Our goal this first week is to connect with the kids and get them set up on the technology that will be so important to their work here and at home,” he said, noting that students will also spend more time outside while at school, whether for physical education, bicycling or even music classes.
Some first- and second-graders at Chimacum Creek Primary as well as some eighth- and ninth-graders at Chimacum Junior High also returned to in-person classes Tuesday.
Some seventh-graders are set to return to classes Thursday, while high-schoolers and many other students began fully remote learning Tuesday.
Kindergartners in Chimacum are set to start the school year Thursday, spending half their day in class and the other half learning remotely.
In Port Townsend, kindergartners start Sept. 15 and 17, depending on their cohort.
Jefferson County senior reporter Nicholas Johnson can be reached at [email protected].