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While there was the expected nervousness among teachers and students, teachers say all went well.

PMG PHOTO: SCOTT KEITH - Grant Watts first-grade teacher Trina Ziels welcomes students Tuesday, Sept. 6It's back to the alarm clock for students in the Scappoose and St. Helens school districts, as classes have officially resumed.

At Grant Watts Elementary School in Scappoose, school started Tuesday, Sept. 6, but for kindergartners, opening day is a week later, Sept. 12.

Up busy Highway 30, at St. Helens High School, ninth-graders and students new to the district or high school resumed classes Tuesday, while other grades start Wednesday, Sept. 7.

There are always plenty of nerves on opening day, but first-graders in Trina Ziels' Grant Watts classroom were ready to take on the challenge.

"They came in and responded really well to remembering how to sit and listen to a story," Ziels said. "They did really well learning the routines, the lay of the classroom and what not. We talked a lot about kindness and respect."

At St. Helens High, Eric Stearns, who teaches choir, described opening day as more of an orientation session.

"It's a great day," Stearns said. "The energy is very good. There is a very positive vibe throughout the school. Were seeing kids who are very respectful and kind. They are starting off the year in a very intelligent way."

With no indoor mask mandates, it's easy to notice a more relaxed atmosphere at area schools.

"Of course, it's nice to see everyone's smiles," Stearns said. "However, we do respect a student's choice or a faculty member's choice to wear a mask if they choose to.

"I would say the majority of our students are without masks currently. It does allow us to see their faces better, of course, and be able to connect with them with a look rather than just verbally."

Aging St. Helens High is in the midst of a massive rebuild. So far, students seem to be able to navigate through the disruptions.

"We put in a new fire lane — it's a new road behind B building," Stearns said. "That's actually provided a pretty safe place for students to be able to get from the student parking lot into the campus."

Stearns continued, "Of course, it's difficult with portable buildings and being out of classrooms, but this incoming crop of students, this is the only reality they know, because they weren't here prior to the demolition of A building. This is their reality."

Stearns sees a lot of energy at the high school, even among his fellow teachers.

"The energy level is very high. I think our administration did a very good job of getting us ready for the school year. I think it's nice just to finally have kids back in the building," he said.

Amelie Rousseau, who teaches culinary arts at St. Helens High, was equally impressed with opening day.

"I think everyone at St. Helens is very excited for just a normal, healthy year of just being together and building up our programs," Rousseau said. "Everyone is really excited."

With no mask mandate, Rousseau said it's easier for everyone to connect with one another.

"Our ability to connect, smiling, telling stories and laughing together — to me, it means everything," Rousseau said.

Asked if her first-grade students at Grant Watts were nervous about returning to school, Ziels answered, "I think they're definitely more excited. I only had one little person that was nervous. I think the question of the day was, 'Were you excited to come to school?' We had almost all yeses."


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