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First Day Of School Jitters In March, As Ferguson-Florissant Welcomes Students Back

Students wait to be let into McCluer-South Berkeley High School Wednesday morning March 24, 2021, the first day the Ferguson-Florissant School District brought students back to classrooms since the pandemic began.
Ryan Delaney
St. Louis Public Radio
Students wait to be let into McCluer-South Berkeley High School on Wednesday morning. "It's still school," one said about returning to classrooms for the first time in more than a year.

Putting on shoes to go to school this morning felt strange for student Alexis Conners. Hearing the bell for the first time made math teacher Malinda Baker laugh.

A year after the pandemic first closed the building, 130 sleepy high school students walked into McCluer-South Berkeley High in Ferguson on Wednesday to be greeted by their energetic teachers.

Baker, a math teacher, says educating kids “is better done when you can see their little eyes light up because they got something or their eyebrows go in a certain way because they didn't get a thing.”

Students who elected to return will be in the building four days a week. Baker and other teachers will still have to teach virtual lessons, too, often simultaneously.

Before the first bell rang, Baker was standing outside her room. She pointed one student toward a different classroom, asking him to walk on the proper side of the taped line now running down the hallway. And she had to coach another student on how to sign out a bathroom pass.

“School definitely feels different,” said senior Key’Mon Jenkins. “I am used to seeing all the hand sanitizer and tape all around different public places. But it’s real weird standing in your school.”

Jenkins said he was excited about being back in school to finish out his senior year — less excited about waking up so early. But he also had reservations. A cousin has caught COVID-19, and he’s read about outbreaks at other schools in the news.

“I'm just really trying to be real cautious about things going on,” he said. “So I just want to see what they have going on in order to take that fear away from me.”

Connors, another senior, actually helped design some of the social distancing guidelines as part of her biomedicine course at the science and technology-themed school. For her, the day felt like a mix of the first day of school and a reunion, as she hasn’t seen some classmates in a long time. “Every time I approach someone else, I’m like, ‘Do you remember me?'”

Business teacher Brad Johnson has six students in person and six who will be watching his accounting class online. He admitted there’d be a little more bonding going on today than normal.

“I see us doing a little bit of accounting today, but not an inordinate amount. So we’re going to take our time, just make sure students feel safe,” he said.

As the sun first rose on the parking lot, a few students sat on a concrete barrier waiting to be let inside, masked faces resting in hands. Were they excited about being back to class?

“It’s still school,” one said.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @rpatrickdelaney

Ryan was an education reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.