Third-grader Madeleine Filitis, left, second-grader Emma Karnes and prekindergartner Isabel Filitis walk hand in hand Tuesday with a group families for first day of school at Hall-Dale Elementary School in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — Students who arrived Tuesday at Hall-Dale Elementary School in Hallowell were wearing masks with different patterns, and had hand sanitizer in the pockets of their backpacks.

It marked the first time since March 13 students got off a bus, waved goodbye to their parents and spent an in-person day at school.

“This is what it’s like to be back at school,” one girl said upon her arrival, according to Principal Kristie Clark. “The kids were really happy to be back with their teachers in a building that they know is a safe and comfortable place — and to be with their friends.”

At Hall-Dale Elementary School, part of Regional School Unit 2, students have been divided into three cohort groups to manage remote learning.

Cohort A started Tuesday and cohort B will begin Thursday.

Both groups attend in-person instruction two days a week and learn remotely the rest of the week. On Wednesdays, all students will be at home with homework.

There also is a cohort C. Those students are receiving remote instruction on a full-time basis. Clark said about 60 students at Hall-Dale have opted to participate in full remote learning.

Among those in cohort A are Millie Rauch’s three elementary-age children, who will be starting prekindergarten, first grade and third grade. Her older daughter, Hannah, is in sixth grade at the middle school.

Principal Kristie Clark has a basket of masks ready Tuesday in case any student arriving for first day of school needed one at Hall-Dale Elementary School in Hallowell. Clark said she had not given out many masks since almost everyone came wearing his or her own. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Rauch walked with her three elementary schoolers Tuesday morning.

“We are looking forward to it,” she said. “I think they have taken all the right precautions. The classes are smaller, and they have the right hygiene techniques in place. We were a little nervous, but mostly excited to return.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maine Department of Education has established green, yellow and red designations for schools to guide how in-person learning will be undertaken. The designations are determined by the DOE every two weeks, based on coronavirus data for the counties in which schools are located.

Hall-Dale Elementary has been given a green designation, like most schools in Maine. York County has the only schools in Maine with a different designation, having been assigned yellow.

Hugo Anderson, a third-grader, said he was worried Monday night about his return to school Tuesday.

Leo Anderson, left, Kate Anderson and Cora Anderson hug Tuesday after dropping off big brother, Hugo Anderson, for his first day of third grade at Hall-Dale Elementary School in Hallowell. Leo Anderson would later begin prekindergarten in the afternoon session. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I was sort of worried ’cause it might just shut down after the first day,” he said, but that thought was gone as he walked to school with his friends.

Clark said meeting all safety guidelines was a challenges as officials made sure Hall-Dale Elementary was ready to reopen. But, she said, students were “resilient” in following the new rules.

“One of the pieces about starting school in a pandemic that has been challenging is all the additional protocols and safety measures,” Clark said. “Now, the staff is rolling with them, and has to share what’s different and what is the same to students. But we are trying to make it as stress-free for the children as we can.”

Wearing a mask all day, desks 3 feet apart and washing hand multiple times a day are among the protocols put in place by state education officials. Students are able to remove their masks when eating or drinking, and have “mask breaks” built into their schedules.

Clark worked with teachers to ensure students can be outside most of the day to get them out of the classroom and into the open air. To accomplish this, the school has bought picnic tables and a 20-by-30-foot tent, which Clark said looks like a “circus tent,” to allow more teaching flexibility.

Hall-Dale Elementary has three spots where outside learning can take place, according to Clark. Path trails, an apple orchard and field are among the outside classroom locations.

With students out of school Wednesday as part of their regularly scheduled weekly remote learning, Clark said she will spend the day reviewing the first day with her staff before cohort B arrives Thursday.

“There was nothing large that happened that we didn’t think about,” Clark said of Tuesday. “One of the big things now is the restriction on visitors to the building. Parents are picking up students, who are not riding buses in much higher numbers than in the past. The other thing is kids playing outside and reminding them to stay as far apart as they can.”

As a district, RSU 2 established a dismissal program — called “Pick-up Patrol” — to help schedule and manage pickup times as more parents will be coming to school to collect their children.

As for day one, with new rules and procedures, Clark said everything went “really great,” and she is feeling “positive” about the rest of the school year.

Photographer Joe Phelan contributed to this report.

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