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Following Labor Day weekend, students in Scappoose and St. Helens return to in-school learning.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - St. Helens High School Principal Katy Wagner in front of students gathered in the commons area on opening day. For school students in Scappoose and St. Helens, it's a return to a familiar tradition: Set your alarm early, catch the school bus and return to in-class instruction.

Following the Labor Day holiday, school is back in session.

At St. Helens High School, Wednesday, Sept. 8, marked the official first day of school and despite opening day jitters — to be expected — all went smoothly.

Principal Katy Wagner was busy the first day, at times answering many questions posed by students in the commons area.

"We have about 100 staff members and about 840 students here in the building," Wagner said. "It is the most number of students and adults we have had in the building since March 2020. This is a pretty important day."

Students were glad to return to school, Wagner told the Spotlight. They'll be there five days per week for full school days, for the first time since before rising COVID-19 cases moved schooling in Oregon online all the way back in spring 2020.

"In my conversations, students were really happy to be here," Wagner said. "They also demonstrate incredible flexibility and grace and know that we have a lot of new systems online this year, and with that comes a big learning curve for everybody."

At Grant Watts Elementary School in Scappoose, brand-new principal Bianca Sapp was equally pleased to see students back in the classroom. School opened there Tuesday, Sept. 7.

"They were absolutely excited," Sapp said of her students. "The teachers were excited as well. It was a pretty smooth operation."

Sapp continued, "Everything is running smoothly, and the staff has come together to do an amazing job of getting the school ready and having the kids run through their first day successfully."

There have always been some nerves on opening day for students, parents and staff, even before COVID-19 changed the landscape.

"First day jitters — everybody's got them a little bit," Wagner said, adding, "I think after a couple of days, it will start to feel more routine and more normal, knowing what to expect."

Sapp was pleased that students can once again see their teachers.

"You could just taste the excitement," Sapp said. "It was a lot of smiles and a lot of happy moments. Children were seeing their favorite teachers again. It was a great day."

It didn't take long for students to become familiar with their Grant Watts surroundings, Sapp noted, whether they're new to the school or returning.

"Walking through the classes, you really wouldn't know that these students have been out of school for so long," Sapp said. "They have fallen right back into their routines and their practices. They're showing great behavior and enthusiasm for being back in school."

With a mask mandate imposed for schools throughout Oregon, Wagner said students at her school were in compliance.

"There are a couple of students who maybe just need a couple of reminders," Wagner said. "We experienced that in April when we reopened in person. We have masks available for those students who need them. A lot of times, it's just a quick reminder — it really has not been an issue the entire time."

At Grant Watts, Sapp said much the same.

"There has not been any compliance issues with masks," Sapp said. "All of our students, they wear the masks with no problem."

Sapp is confident looking ahead to the school year.

"Absolutely, we can only go up from here," she said, adding, "We're already an amazing school to begin with and I'm excited to see how much further we go."

At St. Helens High School, Wagner is equally optimistic looking forward — although she is clear-eyed about teachers having some work ahead of them after students spent most of the previous school year online.

"I am very optimistic," Wagner said. "COVID has certainly created a lot of complex challenges, and we're also seeing the impacts of what comprehensive distance learning was like last year."

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