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'I think you can feel stress levels lower than where we were a year ago,' said one principal.

FOREST GROVE SCHOOL DISTRICT - Elementary school students in Cornelius enter on the red carpet on the first day of school Wednesday.New backpacks and masks were 3 feet apart in Forest Grove hallways for the first day of school Wednesday, Sept. 8.

Forest Grove school campuses welcomed all students back at once for the first time in 18 pandemic months that felt so much longer.

"It had been so long since we did a real day like this, some of us teachers had forgotten what the pacing is like," said Sarah Hermans, a sixth-grade literacy teacher at Tom McCall Upper Elementary School. "Some of our kids haven't been in a classroom since (they were) fourth-graders, so building that stamina will take longer than years past."

She added, "That's true for teachers too. We all know that, and we're all in it together."

Over the next few weeks, students will take standardized tests to gauge some aspects of academic standing.

Forest Grove School District teachers and administrators said that following more than an entire school year's worth of virtual class, assessing student progress and needs could take longer than usual — while on day one, the social aspect of in-person classes seemed to have an immediate impact on students' willingness to engage in learning.

"It was noticeable today: Kids started out timid and hesitant, but after lunch and recess and some time together, by the end of the day, it was like a regular school day," said Elizabeth Moore, also a sixth-grade literacy teacher at Tom McCall Upper Elementary. "Having recess and extracurriculars and music back is so important. Learning math isn't always one of the big motivators for kids to be in school."

FOREST GROVE SCHOOL DISTRICT - A student poses for the camera the first day of school in Cornelius Wednesday.Superintendent David Parker, who spent the morning with the freshman class at Forest Grove High School, said 97% of over 700 employees of the Forest Grove School District are vaccinated or will be vaccinated by the state-mandated Oct. 18 deadline for public school staff, while a small group of employees with exemptions will have a few extra restrictions to follow.

All Forest Grove schools offer rapid-result COVID-19 tests to students and staff in designated isolation rooms as well as weekly at-home tests through the mail. The Oregon Health Authority requires both positive and negative results to be submitted daily.

Parker said the district is still finalizing plans to periodically notify the community of COVID-19 data.

"We're looking at a way to show a summary of the data of cases in the district," Parker said. "We're going to be transparent."

At Neil Armstrong Middle School, which has nearly 900 seventh- and eighth-graders, principal Juliana Kelly said she sees making up for lost time as more of an opportunity than a challenge.

"We had plenty of kids waiting out front early," Kelly said. "Teachers are built in a way that seeing kids in the building just naturally gives them energy. I think you can feel stress levels lower than where we were a year ago."


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