LONDONDERRY — Opening day in the community's schools was like no other, with challenges along with many successes as the new year starts.
That's the word from school principals who gave school board members an update at a meeting Sept. 15 on how the first day went amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, sparking many new safety guidelines and protocols in place for both students and staff.
The Londonderry School District opened its doors for the new year Sept. 8 with principals and staff welcoming back students into freshly-painted classrooms, clean floors and carpets, and into a new year of studies and learning.
Classrooms looked different this year, with more space between desks, traffic flow signs in hallways and parking lots, and plenty of masks, hand sanitizers and handwashing stations.
Grades kindergarten through middle school returned for a full in-person model, along with a remote option parents could choose. At Londonderry High School, a hybrid model started with alternating days of in-person and remote learning, also giving families a total remote learning option.
Putting the school district reopening plan into place required months and months of task force work involving school community members, administration, and other stakeholders wanting to find the best solution for the district and its families.
Elementary principals gave positive reports on how the first day of school went, with mask mandates, social distancing and other safety rules in place to help guide the district's youngest students.
North Elementary School Principal Paul Dutton started by saying he was very impressed with the level of support from school officials and families to make the first day, full of new challenges and guidelines, a good one.
"And thanks to the parents for reinforcing safety measures at home," Dutton said, adding that when students arrived in masks, they learned all about the new routines in place to keep them, along with their teachers, safe.
Principals Linda Boyd and Amity Small, representing South and Matthew Thornton elementary schools, respectively, chimed in agreement with Dutton, saying the day was unique, something never done before, but everyone rose to the challenge to make it work.
Students remained in specific groups, or cohorts, throughout the day, ate lunch in their classrooms, then went to recess, still remaining in their own groups. Once recess was being held, custodial crews came into classrooms to do a thorough cleaning before students returned inside.
At Londonderry Middle, Principal William Van Bennekum said there were the first day challenges, mostly with traffic flow, but as the first week moved on, things got much better.
The middle school opened with about 80% returning for in-person learning and the remaining choosing a full remote option. That broke down to 683 students returning to the building, and 200 learning by remote.
"Our kids have done an incredible job," Van Bennekum said. "Social distancing is still a work in progress, but kids keep their masks on at all times and are working their way through many new pieces, with masks, hallways, etc."
At Londonderry High, it was a great first day, principal Jason Parent said, adding students were respectful of the new way the high school day now operates.
Parent said there is a total enrollment of 1,441 high school students, with 1,277 returning in person for the hybrid model, and 164 learning remotely.
The class of 2021 has a total of 390 members, Parent added.
"Students were compliant, respectful and appreciative," Parent said of first few days of the new year.
He added the school is proud is families, students and staff who made all the safety protocols and new guidelines work.
Londonderry is hosting this year's Mack Plaque traditional sporting events against Pinkerton Academy with additional safety guidelines in place for attendance to keep social distancing in mind.