Parents and students gathered around Kellogg Middle School in southeast Portland on Wednesday morning, waiting to enter the newly rebuilt middle school from 2017 bond funds.
It’s one of two new school buildings that Portland public school students first entered on Wednesday. The other is Leodis V. McDaniel High School in northeast Portland, which was renamed last year and has been rebuilt.
For all PPS students, the first day of school marked a return to class; for many, including eighth-grade Joey, it was a comeback after a long absence. He has spent the last year at home, doing distance learning courses.
“I am ready to start the new year, after everything that has happened I am ready,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”
He is excited about science lessons with his “favorite teacher,” he said.
Principal Richard Smith opened the door for the students, welcoming them into the school, while the staff helped the students obtain schedules and register at the tables outside the school entrance.
Parents and family members walked the students to the front door, but it was as far as they could go. Only students were allowed to enter the building.
“Take care of my baby! A relative told Smith.
“We will, we promise,” replied Smith.
Near the door, Jemel, an eighth grade student, stood with his father. Jemel said he looks forward to making new friends after arriving at Kellogg from Beaumont Middle School in northeast Portland.
“I prefer to take classes in person rather than online,” he said.
Amid the crowd of students and parents were Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and PPS Chief of Staff Jonathan Garcia, as well as School Board Member Julia Brim-Edwards and Board Chair Michelle DePass. Some staff and board members visited several schools on Wednesday morning to welcome and support students and their families.
This was DePass’ second stop on a tour of three.
“I find myself having the same emotions that I had on day one for the past forty years,” DePass said.
“The day before, what are you going to wear? Choosing clothes, … the anticipation of a new school year, the excitement, a little nervous about wondering who your teachers will be.
Guerrero and DePass both acknowledged that the start of the school year coincided with the continued impact of the delta variant on COVID-19 cases.
“When you talk to students and parents, family members, they’re nervous, they’re anxious. Everyone is worried, ”Guerrero said. “But you know what, I’m confident about the steps we’ve taken to ensure health and safety and try to minimize disruption to learning.”
These measures include hand washing, COVID-19 testing, masks and COVID-19 vaccinations. In addition, the school district asked students to eat lunch outside for the first six weeks of school.
At Kellogg, this means that students will be able to sit in a large courtyard, with a few tables.
While vaccinations are mandatory for PPS staff by October 18, under a rule announced by Governor Kate Brown, the district does not know how many students are vaccinated. PPS Chief of Staff Jonathan Garcia said the district hopes to get a feel for that number this month.
“We are planning right now to get a feel for the percentage of our students vaccinated,” Garcia said. “We don’t have those numbers yet.
Only children 12 and older are eligible to get the vaccine right now, and colleges typically have students who are both above and below this age threshold.
Garcia said the only impact of having students with different vaccine statuses is how administrators will follow up positive cases at school.
“This is about contact tracing … people who are vaccinated, there are different rules if you will on how quarantine and isolation work,” he said. “I think this is where maybe there will be a lot more nuance here.”
For some Kellogg Grade 6 students, starting the New Year at a new school brought a whole range of emotions.
For sixth grade Ella, the first day of school brought a lot of mixed feelings – from nervousness to excitement.
“I don’t want to have that many classes,” Ella said. “It’s hard to explain, I’m scared, I’m nervous seeing people.”
Standing next to her, her classmate Evie also had mixed feelings about more class. But she was also anxious to have lunch outside.
“And I’m really excited to be back in real life school,” Evie said.