I love the first day of school! What’s not to love? It is filled with hope and excitement, anticipation, and nervousness. It is the day on which we collectively agree that summertime is over, and it is on to new adventures! On the first day of school, my brain is whirling with thoughts of how the day will go, who will need my support, and how I can get all those emails answered. I take the first day of school pictures with my own children and hustle them into the car so we can get to school early. I ensure my crew prayer is ready to go and gather my teachers in the front hall at 7:30 AM. We pray in a circle, share some announcements, and put our hands in for a first day cheer and head to the gym to meet our students!
Our students are lined up according to grade level, supplies spilling out of backpacks and arms. Our families have crowded the gym to say goodbye to their students and wish them luck on their new adventure! Our staff is busy cleaning up from breakfast in the cafeteria, welcoming parents into the office, and smiling and waving to all the students. Our scholars have returned from summer break with fresh fitting uniforms, snazzy new haircuts, and excitement in their eyes. I anticipate giant hugs and high fives when we reunite with them after 3 months apart.
A few months ago, this is what my first day of school would have looked like. This year, it did not look anything like my other first days. I worried about the parents, the kids, my teachers, my staff, my own children, and how on earth we were going to re-open a school safely. I spent my first day of school unlike any other in my 16 years of education.
This year, instead of gathering in prayer as a crew, we did prayer over the loudspeaker. There was no gathering in our gym. Students were waiting anxiously in their cars to return to school. I walked up and down carline ensuring families completed the Health Appraisal Form. I took temperatures of students and verified that they were healthy enough to attend school. I made sure everyone stayed 6 feet apart and had a mask on. I welcomed students and gave them a “foot five” instead of a hug. I spent almost an hour fielding questions, communicating new procedures, and smiling behind my nervousness. Which of course, no one could see because of my mask.
After the carline was done, I took my temperature at the kiosk as I entered the building. I made sure students were where they needed to be, classroom breakfasts were cleaned up, and everyone was okay.
And then? Then I prayed. I said a prayer of thanksgiving that we had done it! We had begun school safely. I thanked the Lord that we could see and teach students again, albeit with a mask on. I prayed that we would be able to do this for another 175 days. I prayed that our Lord would continue to let us perform this small feat of educating and loving your children whether in person, or from a distance.
Coronavirus undoubtedly changed our first day of school and perhaps the entire year. But do you know what the coronavirus did not take away? It did not take away the excitement in our student’s eyes. It did not take away the backpacks and arms covered in supplies. It did not take away the exhilaration and joy of teachers doing what they love. It did not take away the dedication of our families to be there for their children as they embarked on a new adventure. The pandemic has changed the way we educate, but it has not changed who we are.
We are Catholic. And we are blessed to work at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy.
Kate Kelly is the Assistant Principal at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Academy. This is her 16th year in education.