Buses, parent drop-offs and masks as children come back to school

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Children arrive for their first day at Fawn Hollow Elementary School Tuesday as the new academic year gets underway.

MONROE, CT —Monroe Elementary School Principal Kelly Svendsen stood beside Acting Superintendent of Schools Joseph Kobza, as children with backpacks emerged from a long line of cars at the parent drop-off behind the building Tuesday morning.

Students were dressed up for their first day of school. Little boys arrived with their hair neatly brushed and many of the girls wore bows in theirs. There was also a variety of face masks, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Hudson! You’re sporting a new dew,” Svendsen said to one boy. “I love the hair!”

“A dinosaur shirt?” Kobza said to another student. “Nice!”

Monroe Elementary School Principal Kelly Svendsen points the way for the first child to step off a school bus Tuesday.

School Resource Officer John Yaworski walked several of the younger children up to school administrators, while carrying the bags for some.

“Usually, all our attention had been waiting by the buses and I would come back here for a few parent drop-offs,” Svendsen said. “About 80 percent of parents reported they will be dropping their child off.”

Other differences are the setups inside school buildings to promote social distancing this year. For example, chairs in the gym are spaced 10-feet-apart for music classes.

“It’s going to be distant, but it’s good we’re having music this year,” said Alyson

O’Grady, the school music teacher.

Hallways in Monroe, Stepney and Fawn Hollow elementary schools have tape dividing the floor into two lanes, with directional arrows.

“I’m feeling a little bit of nerves, but mostly excited,” Svendsen said of the first day of school. “The nerves go away once you see the kids.”

Don’t forget your mask

Masuk Principal Steve Swensen was among the group of administrators welcoming students on their first day of school Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday morning, Darleen Fensore, director of student support services, got out of her vehicle at Masuk High School and walked toward the building just as a teacher walked up the steps from the parking lot’s lower level.

Both women stopped, looked at each other and smiled, before turning back to their cars to get their face masks.

Steve Swensen, the new principal, wore a black face mask with a Masuk logo. While standing in front of the main entrance, he said, “I’m excited. I always get excited on the first day. I can’t sleep the night before. It’s nervous excitement with the masks and everything else.”

“I can’t wait to get the kids in,” Kobza said before the buses arrived.

“That’s why we do it,” Swensen added. “For the kids.”

A teacher looked back at Swensen, Kobza and Assistant Principal Mark Schwarz  before entering the building, “ready to roll,” she said with a smile.

Courtney Young, a new reading specialist, was starting her first job in education after having worked as a social worker and a nursing home administrator. “I’m excited,” she said. “I’m definitely curious to see how all of this will work.”

Some students stepped off buses, while many others who drove to school walked up the sidewalk. Administrators greeted them as they walked by.

“What’s up guys?” Kobza asked one group of boys. “I almost didn’t recognize you with your masks on. How’s football?”

Mike Lawlor, manager of All-Star Transportation, held a clipboard while keeping track of the buses.

“It’s a little more involved,” he said of this year. “But we still have to do the bus runs, not knowing who’s going to be taking the bus — and we have to maintain the timing of the run. Then there’s the cleaning and the mask wearing.”

Bus drivers clean their bus between trips, in addition to thorough cleanings after the morning runs and at the end of the day, according to Lawlor.

Seeing children in person

Lisa LeBlanc, a reading specialist, greets a young Fawn Hollow Elementary School student who just stepped off her bus.

Tuesday was the first day of school for Leigh Ances, who was recently hired as Fawn Hollow Elementary School’s principal. She said she mostly felt excitement with a little bit of nervousness.

“We have a lot of new protocols and procedures in place to keep the students and staff safe,” Ances said. “It’s wonderful though to be able to interact with children in person. It’s really good to be able to open the doors and have children walking the halls.”

Ances joined teachers and fellow administrators in greeting students as they stepped off the bus.

“Awesome mask Destiny!” one staff member called out. “I like your glasses Brooklyn!”

“Oh, it feels so good to see them again,” Kimberly Nelly, a reading specialist, said. “You saw them on Zoom and we’ve been doing distance stuff, but to see them in person …”

After all of the children were safely inside their school, Kobza and Interim Assistant

Fawn Hollow Principal Leigh Ances welcomes children to their first day of school and escorts them to the entrance.

Superintendent Jack Ceccolini walked back to their vehicles. Later in the day, Kobza said they would visit Stepney Elementary and Jockey Hollow Middle schools.

“That went very smoothly,” Kobza said. “It will get faster as the kids get acclimated to where they need to go.”

“And the bus routes will be smoother,” Ceccolini said.

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