Students start the school year

Leigh Zeller, Lenoir City High School lobby secretary, works behind a face shield and large plastic shield around her desk.

School hallways across the county saw new rules and procedures implemented Friday as one-third of students returned to class for the year.

Friday was the first of three days educators staggered the return of students. All students returned Wednesday.

Don Maloney, Lenoir City Elementary School principal, said the staggered start was a “real blessing” as it gave staff time to fix any procedural errors.

Marvin Feezell, Philadelphia Elementary School principal, echoed his sentiment.

“All these procedures are brand new, and we put a lot of thought and effort and tried to have a lot of foresight in what could happen here and there, but being able to test them out with just a small number of students that if there were any tweaks that need to be made, we’ve been able to make those easily, and we’re even better prepared for the next day,” Feezell said. “Everything has gone really well, but just small things like which teacher should line up their kids first, who should line up their kids next. Just little minor things that just make things flow more efficiently.”

Maloney said the students came prepared for the day. Only one student in the school needed to be provided with a mask. The students have also been responsive to teacher instruction.

“We anticipated there would be a lot of kids wanting hugs and things,” Maloney said. “They’ve been very appropriate with elbow touches or air high-fives. So some of the things we anticipated might be teachable moments have not turned out to be that way.”

Patrick Bethel, Fort Loudoun Middle School principal, said he has not seen a change in the atmosphere compared to previous years’ first days.

“Our teachers were really excited to see our kids, our kids were really excited to be back,” Bethel said. “I mean it’s different, obviously, than what we’re used to doing. Normally we would have some hugs and stuff like that, but we can’t do that. Our kids were excited and really talkative.”

Feezell said the atmosphere has been different in what educators see, but “the love you see and feel” is still there.

At Lenoir City High School, principal Chip Orr said the atmosphere felt more subdued than previous years.

“Typically on the first day, the kids are really excited to be back, and there’s kind of a buzz in the air so to speak, just an excitement,” Orr said. “There’s still some of that, and you can tell the kids are glad to be back, but they’re just more subdued and more cautious than I guess they would be in the past.”

For Feezell, the entire situation is a valuable learning experience for students.

“As we’re looking at this, one of the biggest things I think we can teach our kids right now is how to overcome a difficult situation with some creativity and a good attitude,” Feezell said. “Because this is not going to be the last difficult thing we face at school, and it’s certainly nowhere near the last difficult thing they’re going to face in life. Right now, teaching kids how to … give grace and empathy to other people, that’s a lot more important than math and science and things like that for the time being. We will teach all of those things, but right now it’s about redeveloping those strong relationships, getting to know our technology in case we have to use it remotely for any reason in the future and just learning how to be good people around each other.”