Albany Police Chief Marcia Harnden arrived at Liberty Elementary School on Monday, but there wasn't an emergency — only a celebration.
The chief helped welcome students back to in-person learning for the first time in Greater Albany Public Schools since last April, when schools across the state closed to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
The state established metrics designed to let schools reopen once the COVID case rates for the counties they were in dropped below a certain level, then compromised by making the metrics optional rather than mandatory.
Earlier this month, the state again changed course and mandated that all students be given the opportunity to learn in person rather than online through comprehensive distance learning, or CDL.
But spending half the year interacting with teachers online seemed to carry an added benefit for GAPS youngest students.
Instead of teary kindergartners, Sunrise Elementary School Principal Kimberly Jordan said there was just one student who cried — the others were already familiar with their teachers and staff.
"I'm a new principal this year, but they're used to seeing me on Zoom, and so it was strange to hear them calling my name," she said.
"One thing I did notice," she continued, "is that because kindergartners have never been in school, they don't know what it's supposed to look like. So telling them to come in and sit in their space was easy peasy because they've been doing that at home for the first half of the year."
GAPS students in grades K-2 returned to classrooms on Monday as part of a hybrid model that allows a half-day of classroom time and online learning as well. Students who do not yet feel comfortable returning to in-person can remain in CDL.
Those who did venture back into classrooms on Monday saw a different experience than in years past.
Students are still required to wear masks and cohorts are limited to prevent straying from social distancing standards. At Liberty Elementary School, Principal Bob Daugherty showed off a 6-foot rod meant to help teachers keep desks apart, ensuring the proper distancing.
"They were so well-behaved today," said Jordan of her Liberty students. "They remembered all the safety protocols, which was amazing. Kids were engaged in their classes with their teachers, and a few children told me how happy they were to be back in school."
The district, Superintendent Melissa Goff said, is equally thrilled to have students back in classrooms.
"We were so happy to see kids back in our buildings today," she said. "Seeing them excited to come off the bus and line up with their friends and see their teachers was heartwarming, and we are deeply thankful for the hard work of our staff to get to this day safely. We can't wait to see more and more students return in the coming weeks."