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Tampa Bay area parents, teachers reflect on first day of new school year

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Posted at 10:25 PM, Aug 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-10 23:16:30-04

TAMPA BAY, Fla — Tens of thousands of kids across the Tampa Bay area can cross “first day of school” off their list as students made their way back to the classroom on Tuesday. Parents and teachers are sharing how smoothly the day went as they continue to navigate through the ongoing pandemic.

“The students did great. They followed the rules. They were excited. I think a lot of kids were actually genuinely excited to be back at school and just have that social connection with fellow students and teachers as well,” said Octavio Hernandez, a teacher in Polk County Schools.

Hernandez says he was pleasantly surprised by the number of students that wore masks on their own. Masks are optional at this time for Polk County Schools. Managing school during the COVID-19 crisis was also not lost on teachers who are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

“I’m just preparing ahead just in case we have to go online. Last year, we had a good experience of it, so this year, I’m hoping we don’t have as many quarantined students or contacts because most of us have been vaccinated,” said Hernandez. “Hopefully that won’t happen as much this year.”

In Manatee County, school leaders say things went smoothly as more than 50,000 students enrolled in 64 different schools across the county showed up for the first day of school.

Richard Daenell, a teacher in Manatee County Schools, says students were respectful with masks optional. He explains while they’re going to have growing pains or some gaps to fill, their plan is to take the gaps into consideration, build them into what they do every day, and get the kids through it.

“You take it day by day. You do your best. We’re still pushing, ‘Germ-X and Lysol is my best friend,’ kind of thing,” said Daenell. “I teach in a computer lab, so keep the keyboards clean, the desks clean, and you do the best you can with it.”

“For the most part, it was a fairly normal day: getting to go to art and lunch and seeing her friends for the first time in almost 18 months. So she was very excited today, and she had a really great day,” said Kimberly Pullen, a Hillsborough County Schools parent.

Pullen’s 10-year-old daughter went back to school on Tuesday, too. Pullen explains while Day One is behind them, she’s still anxious and hopes parents remember this message.

“I really hope that parents take this opportunity and take the time when we do have those positive cases to look at their own mitigation measures that they’re doing in that the choices that you make are not only for your student, it’s for everybody else in that classroom,” said Pullen.