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Teachers and staff greeted students across the Tigard-Tualatin School District on Wednesday.

PMG PHOTO: RAY PITZ - Alberta Rider Elementary School second grade teacher Cheri Gamache talks about the importance of having a positive mindset to her students on the first day of school Wednesday. Students returning to Bull Mountain's Alberta Rider Elementary School Wednesday, Sept. 8, were greeted with a large "Welcome Back" sign as they entered to school grounds on the first day of school.

They were also greeted with teachers happy to see them after a long summer and a previous year, with all the challenges tied to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wednesday marked the first day back for the Tigard-Tualatin School District, the week after neighboring Portland Public Schools began the 2021-22 school year.

The plan this year is to have fully in-person, five-days-per-week instruction at all neighborhood schools — for the first time since March 2020, before spiking COVID-19 cases plunged school families and staff across Oregon into comprehensive distance learning.

At Alberta Rider Elementary, principal Rory Moore said he was looking forward to settling into the new year in a school that has an enrollment of 496 students.

"Today, we spent a lot of time planning this logistical piece around the lunches, which in my mind, coming in, it's the most challenging because it's unknown," he said. "The kids were really great, though. They were really happy to be back. They were really excited to see us."

Moore said one of the main messages the school is trying to promote is how to teach students and their families what to do to stay safe amid the delta variant of the coronavirus.PMG PHOTO: RAY PITZ - Sophie, a second-grader in Cheri Gamaches class at Alberta Rider Elementary School, asks a question during the first day of school Wednesday.

That means taking special precautions such as allowing no more than two classes in the cafeteria at the same time, all spaced 6 feet apart, while two other classes eat outside.

Outside, there are four separate spaced-out zones where students can gather during recess.

"Our families overwhelmingly like the plan," Moore said of being given the choice of eating inside or outside. "We (also) sent a pretty detailed video out about a week before they could decide on whether they would be in virtual academy or stay in the school … we had an opportunity for families to ask questions, and we had a Q-and-A from that."

On Thursday, Sept. 9, the Tigard-Tualatin School District began its virtual academy for students who aren't ready to return to in-person classes. That online program is designed to synchronize with a normal class schedule, giving students who are still learning from home as close to a real school experience as possible.PMG PHOTO: RAY PITZ - Students in Cheri Gamaches second-grade class at Alberta Rider Elementary School listen to teacher Cheri Gamache tell a story.

But at a school where close to 500 students will now be attending five days per week, Leslie Van Kleek, first dean of students at Alberta Rider Elementary, said she has been working on logistics for keeping students and teachers safe.

Van Kleek is also in charge of managing student behavior and supporting students who may need extra help with their classroom behavior.

"It seems like teachers are doing a great job with the 3 feet apart, and kids are being outstanding with masks today that I've seen," said Van Kleek.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Jorge Porrata, a fourth grade two-way immersion teacher at Bridgeport Elementary School, reads a book to his class on the first day of school Wednesday.

Also new this year, Jillian Crisci, Alberta Rider Elementary's instructional coach, said the first week of school always tends to be an anxious time, something she's there to address.

"I was talking to one teacher last week who was just mindful that there might be a higher impact of trauma for students this year coming back and how could she think about building community with her students and building safety in her classroom given that," said Crisci.PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Students at Bridgeport Elementary School play on the playground during a recess during the first day of school.

Down the hall in her second-grade class, Cheri Gamache reminded students of the benefits of a having a positive mindset. She told them when something is hard, they can choose to say they can't do it or think in terms of the "power of yes."

She also stressed to her students the importance of realizing that mistakes help students learn.

"Most really great learning in this world — in history — happened because mistakes happened first," Gamache said. "So, we're going to work on that growth mindset, all year long."


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