GREENFIELD — Cousins Laney Nuffer and Mackayla Walker woke up in time to make a Starbucks run before heading to class Thursday morning at Greenfield-Central High School.
School resumed for students at both Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon schools on July 29, and scores of students could be found streaming into classrooms bright and early.
For some, a little caffeine made the return to an early-morning routine more bearable.
Superintendents Harold Olin and Jack Parker reported a smooth transition back to school for students on Thursday, which many hoped would mark a return to the first fully “normal” school year since the 2018-19 session.
While at least one metro-area school district — Zionsville Community Schools — voted this week to make face masks mandatory once again, the first students to return to class in Hancock County are hoping such restrictions don’t become necessary here.
“I just want to have a normal senior year,” said Laney, 18, sipping her beverage on her way into school Tuesday morning.
Her cousin agreed. “The past couple of years have been rough,” said Mackayla, 17, who is looking forward to experiencing prom and other senior milestones that have been disrupted over the past two years.
Their friend, Melony Chappell, 17, was happy to start off her senior year with a typical, in-person class schedule.
“It was tough adapting to the hybrid schedule last year,” she said.
As students adjusted to a return to a normal school day, administrators at Mt. Vernon and Greenfield-Central schools stayed busy making sure things went smoothly.
By Thursday afternoon, Olin had visited all eight Greenfield-Central schools and reported that things were going well.
Parker had done the same at all five Mt. Vernon schools, and even joined students on one of the buses. By the afternoon, he had visited with all of the principals as well as several staff members.
“It has been a great start,” Parker said Thursday. “The common theme is the joy of seeing all of our kids back in school. That’s what I’m hearing from all of our staff — they’re just so happy to see all of our kids back.”
Olin said the same was true at Greenfield-Central schools. “There were a few tears with the youngest kids, who sometimes have a little anxiety on that first day, but overall everyone seemed very happy to be back,” he said.
While the pandemic is still very much on educators’ minds — especially as the more aggressive COVID-19 Delta variant drives up cases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing masks indoors in public, regardless of vaccination status — this academic year is on track to be far different from last year.
“I’m looking forward to our teachers catching their breath, not having to worry about preparing to teach all of their lessons virtually for in-person and virtual students, and really just collaborating and accelerating learning for our students,” Parker said.
One of the biggest differences from the last school year is masks are no longer required in Hancock County schools, except on buses.
Both Greenfield-Central and Mt. Vernon schools have a policy that states masks are recommended but not required.
“And while we are recommending that and support that, some people are choosing not to wear a mask, and we’re OK with that,” Parker said, adding he sometimes wears a mask in school buildings.
At Mt. Vernon, if the absentee rate due to combined illness of students and staff in an individual building climbs to 16%, students and staff will be required to wear masks in that building. That pertains to any combined illness, not just COVID-19. It’s part of the district’s tiered health and safety protocols, each of which are assigned a color and come with various practices and recommendations based on absentee rates.
“We’re going to pay very close attention to our absence rates as well as any change that we would receive in our guidance from the state or the county health departments,” Parker said. “And if we need to make changes to our procedures, we can do that very, very quickly and get the word out to all of our parents and staff.”
Olin said he and other Greenfield-Central officials will continue to tune in to the latest guidance from federal, state and county health officials as the year unfolds, but as for now, he’s thrilled that the first day back to school went off without a hitch.