It was probably not Firas Ibrakhim’s idea of his first day in high school.
Everyone was wearing masks. Everyone was social distancing. And nobody was going to lunch.
But the 14-year-old Attleboro High freshman says he was able to find all his classes on time.
“It wasn’t the best first day,” he said, “but it wasn’t bad.”
It’s not the first day of school anyone imagined, really, because there’s never been one quite like it before.
On Monday, about half of the 6,000 students in Attleboro and 2,500 in Foxboro returned to classes for the first time since schools were shut down by the state’s emergency order, part of Gov. Charlie Baker’s effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The other half took part in class from home under the so-called hybrid mode adopted by most school districts in the area and a majority across the state. The mode calls for a rotating schedule of in-person classroom instruction and remote learning.
Attleboro Superintendent David Sawyer said things went pretty well, despite some traffic jams at the opening of school. A number of parents, he said, decided to drive their children to school rather than put them on the bus.
Monday’s early release day — with high school students dismissed at about 10:50 am. and other grades slightly later — was mainly to acquaint everyone in the first student group, cohort A, with their new schools and schedules without the added complication of shepherding hundreds of kids though lunch.
And, in the case of the high school, learning how to change classes safely.
Tuesday, they’ll do the same thing with cohort B while cohort A learns remotely. On Wednesday it will be remote learning for all and on Thursday full-day classes start.
So far, “reports have been pretty positive,” Sawyer said Monday afternoon.
“The kids were excited to be there. It was a little disconcerting to have so few kids in the halls, but people were happy to get back to normal, or a step in that direction.”
In Foxboro, schools are also following the hybrid model. According to Superintendent Amy Bedros, they had a great first day back on Monday and “it was energizing to see the students head into the school buildings after six months.”
“Students expressed their excitement as they came into the buildings and you could tell by the twinkle in their eyes they were smiling behind their masks,” she added in an email.
Attleboro High School teacher Sheila Rosa, 59, said the first day “went much better than expected.” Rosa, who teaches junior English and has been at AHS since 1989, was enjoying the warmth of the late summer day on campus after classes were dismissed for the day.
“The kids were excited to be here, and followed the rigid rules,” she said. “It went surprisingly well.”
“We have an obligation to be here,” she added, referring to herself and her fellow teachers.
Elizabeth Alves, who was waiting in her car outside Attleboro’s Brennan Middle School, said her fifth-grader son Steve was bit nervous to be heading back to class. She admitted to being a little nervous herself.
“This is all a big change for everyone,” Alves, 41, said. “You’re eager to get some normalcy back, but as a mom it’s always a little nerve-wracking sending your kids back to what I would consider normal.”
She was relieved when her son emerged, backpack slung across his shoulder and mask on his face. She was worried about that, too, she said.
In Foxboro, cohort B students at the middle and high school levels will arrive for in-person learning Tuesday.
“This year will be certainly be different, will require patience from all as we navigate this new journey, but most importantly our students are able to connect with teachers, staff and peers and be back together again,” Bedros said.
Foxboro’s version of hybrid learning was tailored to meet the different needs at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The reopening plan employs different scheduling rotations for younger and older students, all based on maintaining a minimum distance of 6 feet when in the school building.
Most elementary students will attend school every day, with half reporting for 2-1/2 hours of in-classroom instruction each morning (8:45 to 11:15 a.m.), then returning home for remote learning from 12:30 to 3 p.m. The other half, assigned to an alternate schedule, will participate remotely during morning hours before reporting for in-classroom learning during the afternoon.
“It truly was wonderful seeing the buses roll in and parents dropping off students. We will continue to monitor how each day goes and make adjustments as we adapt to our new learning environment, but all went really well,” Bedros said.
Seekonk schools will open Tuesday with the hybrid model to start, except at Aitken Elementary School, which will start with full remote learning due to construction delays.
Students with last names A through K in cohort A will return for in-person instruction on Tuesday, and students with last names L through Z in cohort B will return for in-person instruction on Thursday. All students at Aitken l will start the first two weeks of school fully remote and begin the in-person hybrid model on Sept. 29. Mondays will be fully remote learning for all students.
North Attleboro public schools, which have opted for a hybrid model, will start Wednesday with a day of fully remote learning before transitioning to half and half on Thursday.
King Philip Regional and Dighton-Rehoboth will open with fully remote learning on Wednesday and Friday respectively, planning to transition to a hybrid model later in the year.
Elementary schools in Norfolk and Wrentham also opened Monday in the hybrid mode, while Plainville’s kindergarten through grade 6 schools will open Thursday with a hybrid start.
Most area schools are offering parents a fully remote option if they are unwilling to send their children to class at this point, with the chance to change to the hybrid model if they wish.