Mark Clairmont | MuskokaTODAY.com

GRAVENHURST — The start of school this morning was much as expected for students at GPS — with the only dark cloud hovering filled with a sprinkle of rain.

Jace Chambers was 35 minutes early.

Max Diemert was jumping up and down with excitement — and a cool new haircut.

Carlee Peconi hugged her sister who came for support.

Tristin Fendly got a hug from his mom, Ashley Whitt.

Lucy Archer hugged her dad, Lucas before entering grade 2.

Carter Fleetham’s mom, Chelsea, snapped his photo.

And Jared Allen was “sorta” happy to be back on the first of school.

All of them wore bright, colourful and cheerful cloth masks.

Allen’s mask had a shark with large smiling teeth on it.

While there was no red carpet rolled out for the returning learners — or sign saying welcome back — Hotchkiss Street was lined with vehicles as usual, families dropping off kids.

Everyone was taking the staggered return in stride.

If there was any trepidation over COVID concerns it was hidden behind masks or not present.

Day 1 was for kids whose last names were among the first six in the alphabet.

They were joined by students in special-ed learning programs.

Teachers arriving early had little to say other than one who said “it’s super to be back and it’s going to be interesting.”

Principal Jennifer Richter referred questions to the school board.

But Chambers’ mom, Shannon Hill, said he was “excited to see his friends” who he usually arrives early to hang out with before school.

Today he was “extra early” — 8:25 a.m. — and had to wait in the car with his mom and grandma Wendy Barkwell, who drove them.

The two women would have preferred he stayed home to study.

Only his dad wanted him to attend classes and was on the phone to see how things were going.

Chambers said “I didn’t want to go, but I have friends.”

And he’s in grade 8 — so it’s a big year.

Max Diemert, 4, and his sister Sadie, 9, were excited to be back.

He was jumping up and down ready for senior kindergarten.

“He got ripped off last year,” his mom Trish, an EA at the school, said of her son’s missed first year at school, adding she’s “glad to be back at work.”

Fellow EAs Andi and Karen — who didn’t want their last names used — too were OK returning.

The educational assistants were walking the school perimeter to help students and parents find their way.

Karen said she was “happy to be back” because “they need a routine.”

“Everyone,” said Karen, referring to students and staff.

“For their mental health,” said Karen, adding that “in the back of my mind it was little concerning.”

“We’ll get used to it,” Andi added, again referring to everyone.

But she said she never considered staying home herself.

“I don’t think it was an option,” she said and wouldn’t consider it anyway.

As kids and parents trickled into the school yard they assembled in areas around the school where they had been directed to in earlier emails from their teachers.

Wearing coats and backpacks and carrying umbrellas there was little sign of reluctance to return.

Lots of hugs and normal student reticence.

But overall it was a smooth first day.

Inside the school it was no doubt different.

But it’s just for one day this week — three next week — then the beginning of fulltime weeks to follow.

Tomorrow may be different — or not — as another group of students arrives.

And the daily drama commences once more.

High school classes resume next week, starting with grade 9 Monday.

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