‘Christmas in August’ — kids return to class in an Alexandria elementary school

Students return to class at Samuel Tucker Elementary School, in Alexandria, Virginia, Aug. 9, 2021.

Students return to class at Samuel Tucker Elementary School, in Alexandria, Virginia, Aug. 9, 2021.

Students return to class at Samuel Tucker Elementary School, in Alexandria, Virginia, Aug. 9, 2021.

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There was no shortage of excitement at Samuel Tucker Elementary School, in Alexandria, Virginia, Monday morning — on the faces of the kids coming off the buses and of the teachers and administrators there to greet them.

It may be just a week into the month of August, but school is back at Samuel Tucker for the first time in a long time.

“The energy was beyond anything I would have expected,” said principal Rene Paschal. “Some of these youngsters have literally grown somewhere between six inches and a foot since the last time I’ve seen them.”

Summer vacation doesn’t really exist when you’re a principal, but Paschal said getting ready for Monday’s opening doubled the normal summer workload.

“The usual — get the floors clean, get everything disinfected — that goes without saying. But it’s the preparing for the mitigation, and getting all of that ready.”

The school has to temperature-screen more than 600 students.

“Do the math — it would take 90 minutes if we didn’t have additional support from different locations where we could scan multiple kids at one time,” Paschal said. Once everyone gets the routine going, he expects it’ll take less than three seconds per student to perform all the precautionary measures.

Even with the headaches, the head of the city’s school system called himself “over-excited” and proclaimed Monday “the best day ever.”

“We are still here and we’re excited,” said Dr. Gregory Hutchings, the superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools. “We’re happy our kids are coming in. We can’t see the smiles, but we can see the smiles in their eyes and the excitement that they have. It’s like any other first day back. We’re going to just have to make sure that we are dealing with our new normal, in not just America but really across the world.”

Some parents dropping off their kids for the first time said the extra precautions put in place had alleviated their concerns, but others admitted they felt anxious — even if their kids were totally fine with it.

Lauren Blanton’s son started the first grade Monday — his first-ever day of school in person. She said he was bursting with excitement all morning. It had her doing a little dance herself on the sidewalk after she dropped him off.

“If he’s excited, I’m excited,” said Blanton. “We’re the parents; we’re the ones who need to worry and think and plan and have backup plans. But not them.”

Things are a little different, and “it’s not the same stressors my parents had to worry about when they dropped me off, but every parent has their own flavor of stressors,” she said. “That’s being a parent.”

She said her son was up around 5 a.m. waking her up like it was Christmas.

“That’s a good feeling,” said Blanton. “Maybe it’ll just make them excited for learning in the future, because they know it’s a privilege that can be taken away or changed, and that’s something to be thankful for.

“It’s Christmas in August,” she said with a laugh.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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