Roz Gross takes off her mask long enough to say goodbye to her sons, Quinn, 9, left, and Walter, 7, and adjust Walter’s mask. Tuesday was the first day of school for both boys at Frank I. Brown Elementary School in South Portland. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

CUMBERLAND COUNTY — Parents may have spent the summer worried about the impact of the pandemic on local schools, but on the first day of classes in South Portland and Scarborough, the kids were more worried about what kids are supposed to worry about — who their new teachers are, whether any of their friends will be in the same classes, and adjusting to a new daily routine.

When asked if all the talk about viruses and wearing masks frightened him, Quinn Gross, 9, of South Portland, said, “not really.” He was more curious as to whether the building he was already familiar with — Frank I. Brown Elementary School — would look different inside.

“I kind of want to see what it looks like when we’re at school,” he said.

Despite increased traffic from parents, school administrators in Scarborough and South Portland said they were happy with how the first day of school went district-wide on Tuesday, while parents said they were happy to see their kids going back.

“Overall, we had a very smooth first day,” said South Portland School Superintendent Ken Kunin. “Both students and teachers were excited to be back in schools.”

Schools in both towns officially re-opened to students on Sept. 8, nearly six full months after the coronavirus pandemic forced buildings to close in mid-March, requiring normal classwork to take place virtually. Now, amid relaxed restrictions from Gov. Janet Mills, schools are opening under a hybrid system, meaning students will attend classes in person for part of the week, and participate in remote learning the rest of the time.

At the Brown School in South Portland, kids and parents walked or biked to the school Tuesday morning, sending their kids to school for what would be the first time in months.

“I’m kind of excited for these guys to have some social interaction again,” said Roz Gross, who was dropping off Quinn and her other son Walter, 7. She only removed her mask when she said goodbye, and made sure both boys were properly masked themselves.

Quinn said he was ready to do remote learning for part of the week, as he got used to it pretty quickly toward the end of the previous school year.

“After I did it for a while, it wasn’t so weird,” he said.

Nearby, Jenny McGillicuddy was seeing her son, Leopold, 8, off as well. She said she was “feeling really calm” about the coronavirus threat, citing information the school shared with parents on how it would be encouraging social distancing, wearing of masks, and other precautions.

“From what I’ve heard, I feel confident in the Brown School’s ability to keep kids safe,” she said.

Buses drop off kids at Scarborough Middle School in a lot next to the school’s main driveway on Tuesday morning. Staff members, background, guided the students to the school. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

Leopold didn’t appear to be concerned. When asked what was foremost on his mind that morning, he said, “I was just thinking, ‘So excited! So excited! Can’t wait to meet new classmates, my new teacher!'”

Staff guided students into the building, making note of signs and stickers on the ground reminding everyone to maintain social distancing. Principal Alexis Jones said she particularly noticed how unconcerned the kids seemed to be.

“I was actually very surprised at the normalcy,” she said. “They were all super-thrilled to be back.”

The morning routine at Scarborough Middle School was busy, but organized. Instead of pulling up to the front of the building, buses parked at a nearby lot, where staff members directed the kids as they got off. In front of the building, parents’ vehicles lined up in a drop-off zone.

“It’s different,” said Danielle Maietta, just after seeing off her daughter, Berkeley, 11.

Maietta admitted she was “a little” worried about safety, but she still thought it was good for her daughter to have face-to-face schooling.

“I hope that they get to interact with each other,” she said of the students.

Jack Reuss, 11, meets his new teacher, Susan Teel, for the first time outside Scarborough Middle School. Reuss said he was more concerned about his first day as a middle schooler than he was about the coronavirus. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

Kathy Reuss was bringing in her son Jack, 11. She said she felt reassured by the district’s efforts to keep kids safe while in school.

“We trust in the Scarborough school system’s precautions,” she said.

As for Jack, Tuesday was not just the first day of the school year, but his first day as a middle schooler, so he said he was “only kind of” thinking about the coronavirus.

“I’m worried about new teachers and stuff,” he said.

As parents continued to bring their kids in, a line of vehicles snaked down the middle school’s driveway, a visual indicator of another potential problem: traffic. School Superintendent Sandy Prince said in a typical year, the district buses 2,400 kids a day overall. This year, the district asked parents to consider driving their kids to cut down on the number of students riding buses, so that number has dropped to 1,108.

Dismissal time, Prince said, was particularly hectic at the Wentworth School, when parents came to pick kids up, prompting officials to begin working on a way to make things easier. But Prince said he was happy parents are getting involved.

“We’re thankful that parents have stepped up in transporting their kids,” he said.

Kunin said traffic “is always a concern” in South Portland, and he is now working with the Police Department on new measures, such as a new parent drop-off area at Memorial Middle School, or a right-turn only exit from Skillin Elementary, to improve traffic flow.

Overall, Prince added, the first day went very well despite the traffic, with everyone — students, faculty and staff — grateful for a sense of normalcy they hadn’t had in months.

“It was just awesome to have everybody back,” he said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

Email: [email protected]

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