AUGUSTA — As parents pulled up to Farrington Elementary School on Thursday morning, kids jumped out of passenger seats, threw their packs on their backs and greeted Dean of Students Michelle Noiles with a muffled “hello” from behind their masks.

“Welcome! What grade are you? Are you having breakfast this morning?” Noiles asked the students, helping them across the street to be greeted by more teachers.

More students, faces adorned with masks, hopped off school buses and were directed by Principal Teresa Beaudoin on the one-way path inside. Those who were eating breakfast headed to the cafeteria before going to their classrooms.

Long-term substitute teacher Amie Frake was among the educators greeting students — and making sure they were walking in the correct direction, wearing their masks properly and staying 6 feet apart.

“The kids are doing really, really well,” she said. “It’s exciting for them to be here again. It’s been six months since most of them have been here, so it’s good to see them.”

To ensure students are appropriately distanced to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Augusta has split its students into cohorts. Its A and B groups attending in-person learning two days a week and learning remotely three days. Cohort C is comprised of students learning remotely on a full-time basis.

Cohort A started Thursday, while cohort B students will start Friday.

Once children got to their classrooms, students found desks 3 feet apart, and stacked with regular and colored pencils. And new to the classroom this year is a hand-sanitizing station, which students will use before entering and leaving the classroom.

Red tape marks the spots for desk distances Thursday in a kindergarten classroom at Farrington Elementary School in Augusta. Before social distancing rules because of coronavirus pandemic kindergarteners would have sat together at tables instead of individual desks. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Augusta’s four elementary schools were given two extra days to prepare for the first day of school, following a vote by the school board at a special meeting on Sept. 2.

Board members made the decision to delay the start date after hearing concerns from some teachers, including that devices are not yet ready for students in kindergarten through second grade.

“We found out that when we tried to get the licensing necessary (for the laptops), there was a glitch between the vendor and Google,” Augusta Superintendent James Anastasio said at Wednesday night’s school board meeting. “The glitch made it so we couldn’t get them.”

The school department is waiting for the 500 licenses needed to operate the laptops from Systems Engineering, Business Manager Kathy Casparius said Wednesday. The Chromebooks have been in storage since the end of the last academic year.

Anastasio thinks that the devices should be given out to students by the end of next week, he said. He pointed out that in a “normal” school year, students would usually be receiving their technology two weeks into the academic year.

Kim Silsby, principal of Cony Middle and High School, said her students received theirs Wednesday to start remote learning.

School counselor Hope Libby talks to parents waiting in the student drop-off line Thursday at Farrington Elementary School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

However, not having the devices affects Deborah Skehan, who is teaching her Farrington first- and second-grade classes remotely. Because there were no technology to give to students this week, they had to pick up homework packets Wednesday morning, a day ahead of the first day of school.

Skehan did appreciate the two extra days to prepare for the start of school, using that time to familiarize herself with remote learning program SeeSaw and Google platforms.

“It was totally needed — a lot of teachers that were overloaded in meltdowns,” she said.  “I didn’t have any until two days ago when I was like, ‘Whoah!’ It’s a lot to take in, but we are all in this together.

“If someone knew how to work this (remote learning), they would have rolled it out,” Skehan added, “but all the parents, teachers and staff are working together to figure out how to do it for the kids.”

She opted to teach remotely this school year because of her age. At 65 Skehan and her husband felt it was the best option, although she is going to miss establishing a personal connection among her students. She explained her emotion as a word that she created “ExcitedWhelmed,” because she is feeling both excited and overwhelmed for the start of the year.

“I miss having my own kids in a classroom,” she said. “COVID wasn’t what was going to decide my retirement, it will be me. We are going to try it out, and make the most of it. I’m going to take deep breaths, and if I mess up, it’s OK.”

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