First day vibes: Students face changes to begin school year

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It was the French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr who is credited with the epigram, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." The phrase is an apt description of the opening day of school in 2020.

Throughout the Northshire and mountain communities, schools reopened for the first time since closing their doors six months earlier due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If you're a teacher trying to learn new ways to ply your craft or an administrator developing protocols to keep a school safe from COVID-19, six months is not a long time. But for a youngster missing her friends and needing the stability of routine, six months is forever.

Most schools opened on Tuesday and Wednesday with a hybrid of in-class and online learning models.

When students arriving on the first day stepped down from the school bus or out of a parent's car, they stepped into a changed school environment.

Outdoor classrooms, temperature checks, sneeze guards on desks, one-way hallways, hand sanitizer and masks are the rules now every bit as much as eyes forward, no talking in the hallway and no gum.

And it didn't matter if it was a kindergarten student attending his first class or a senior in high school, there was excitement and nerves.

"It's great to be back in action," said Burr and Burton Academy Headmaster Mark Tashjian. "The first day is always exciting and nerve wracking, and today was certainly both."

There were snafus.

At BBA, Wi-Fi went down in one section of the school and a health screening system glitched, but staff and students persevered.

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"Our incredible team rolled with the punches, as they have since March," Tashjian said. "We will face challenges as we all adjust to the new normal, and I am hopeful that with patience, flexibility, vigilance and a huge dose of cooperation from our community, we can have a really successful school year."In Dorset, where students at Long Trail School used school-issued Bluetooth thermometers at home and answered questions in an app, the morning routine on Tuesday went smoothly.

Head of School Seth Linfield proclaimed 100 percent compliance with plans and procedures.

"Opening 2020 is flowing smoothly, thanks to the abundance of preparation that preceded it and the expansive spirit of our students, faculty, and families," Linfield said Tuesday. "After half a year of social isolation, everyone is simultaneously anxious and excited to be together. These feelings were palpable on campus today as we came together behind masks but with open hearts and minds. The first day of school is never routine, but this one was unprecedented in both anticipation and joy."

Linfield said the school opened with a significant bump in enrollment at 223 students, an increase of more than 10 percent over last year.

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Of those, 50 students are beginning the year with the remaining students split along geographic lines with students from the north and wast attending classes one day followed by students from the south and east the next. That way if there is an outbreak in a community, those students will be groups together lessening the impact on the school community.

LTS hopes to have all students who choose to attend in-person to be on campus by Sept. 21.

Stratton Mountain School is also seeing more students.

The school opened its doors on Monday to welcome the largest student body in SMS' nearly 50-year history, said Ashlee O'Hara, communications associate for the school.

The school welcomed more than 100 boarding students who arrived on campus in pre-assigned shifts to ensure proper distancing while moving in their belongings.

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O'Hara said that, unlike previous years, parents were asked to wait by their vehicles while staff members helped students move into their new homes.

Tuesday saw students together on campus for their first weekly COVID-19 test and initial fitness assessment.

"We are in a unique position thanks to our partnership with Southern Vermont Health Care," said Head of School Carson Thurber. "Between their advisement and the tireless hours of preparation by our staff, volunteer leaders and community partners, I am confident that our student-athletes will have an enriching and exciting fall."

Missy Wilcox, a spokesperson for the Arlington School District said the school started slowly Tuesday with a staggered start involving grades one, three and five, and middle school students. Each day through the week, additional grades were to be added to that by Friday, all in-school learners would be on one of the two campuses of Arlington Memorial Middle and High School or Fisher Elementary across the street.

"Although the schools look and feel different as a result of our responses to COVID-19 precautions, our schools have been diligent in their commitment to ensuring a strong and healthy start to our school year," Wilcox said.

Wilcox said every classroom contains sneeze guards and social distancing as well as a first aid care kit.

All students had their temperature checked and a health screening before entering the school building.

"We were very pleased with how seamless the new procedure went this morning," Wilcox said Tuesday. "Students arrived on time, masked up and socially distanced when necessary. Overall it was a great first day in Arlington."

Contact Darren Marcy at or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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