It was 7:12 a.m. Monday when the announcement could be heard throughout the Apache Junction High School campus.
“All students need to report to their first-period class room.”
And with that, the first day of in-person learning in the Apache Junction Unified School District had begun.
Approximately 2,000 students — two-thirds of the student population — returned to school wearing masks and anxious to resume the new normal. The sound of laughter could be heard in the hallways, on the playgrounds and in classrooms, where teachers not only welcomed students back to school but also taught virtually to those students who are continuing their education at home.
Dr. Krista Anderson, superintendent of AJUSD, said there were “typical first-day challenges,” but that they were resolved quickly and smoothly and, “students were enthusiastic to meet their teachers in person for the first time this school year.”
Dr. Anderson said school and district staff had worked tirelessly to ensure “several layers” of safety for students, and those measures could be seen across the five campuses in the district. At Desert Vista Elementary School, teachers instructed students to walk to and from the playground social-distance style, at least six feet apart. Wearing a mask was mandatory for everyone on campus.
What struck the teachers was the joy on the students’ faces. It turns out that learning at home through a pandemic gives kids a greater appreciation for being on campus and seeing their friends and classmates.
“I loved walking kindergarten students to their classrooms and seeing their faces light up with excitement as they saw their teacher in person for the first time this year,” said Desert Vista principal Pat Smith. “Even though we can’t see the smiles through the masks, you can see the smiles through their eyes.”
Apache Junction High School principal Dr. Chris Lineberry said one student had been emailing him for weeks, wondering when in-person learning was going to begin.
“She came today and it was so good to see her,” Dr. Lineberry said. “She came right up to me this morning and was so happy to be on campus. It was so nice to see our students in person again. Students and staff worked together throughout the day to be sure that everyone was complying with safety regulations and I think those who came back had a great experience.”
Safety protocols will remain in place throughout the school year.
“We are looking forward to the remainder of the school year and hope that COVID numbers remain low so we can continue to educate students in an in-person format,” Dr. Anderson said.
Editor’s note: Scott Bordow is the director of communications and community engagement for Apache Junction Unified School District.