As school buses lined up at the curb and parents arrived on foot and bicycle, a palpable sense of anticipation was in the air outside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Literary and Fine Arts School yesterday afternoon. All eyes were on the front doors. One of the first parents to arrive, Arvin Hutcherson, was excited to hear all about his 5th and 7th graders’ first day back to in-person learning. Mr. Hutcherson quipped that in the morning they ran off to be with their friends and, “forgot I was even here! I’m glad they’re back and you know, as long as we keep everything safe, I think everything will be OK.”

Another parent said her feelings were, “a mixed bag, mostly excitement. I really trust this administration and I trust the teachers to take all the protocols. I know kids are great at wearing masks and we’re just hoping that any day now the approval for under 12 vaccination comes through.”

A voice gasped, “here they come” as students streamed out of the building, flowing toward their adults, buses, bikes and walking buddies. One student seemed delighted to see his former bus driver but was surprised to find that she was driving a different route. Roberto Carillo, K-8 orchestra teacher, was engaged in a conversation with a family about band practice safety protocols and distancing. He said that the day went well, despite some expected bumps, but “whatever didn’t work, we’ll just reconvene and look at again.” Waving back at departing students, Mr. Carrillo enthused, “as a teacher, it was really nice seeing the kids. And you could tell that the kids were really happy to see each other. And, you know, behavior-wise, they were just doing awesome. There’s no conflict, you can just tell, everyone’s happy to be here.”

Some students had not set foot inside a school building since March 2020 and were understandably nervous about doing so. Mr. Carrillo said that he was able to help a couple of students alleviate their anxiety by reminding them to breathe and relax, and by pointing out the safety protocols in place. “I think as the day went on, you could tell that the kids felt a little bit more at home again, you know, because it’s been so long for some of them.”

And for some adults, the first day of a fully in-person, five- day-a-week school year at King Arts was a new experience too. This was the case for Dr. Amber Henderson, who became the school’s principal on July 1st, 2020. Mr. Carrillo said that teachers have been helpful with her transition and, “there’s definitely a lot of teamwork happening, which is really great. Yeah, you can tell everyone’s helping each other out as they can.”

A group of three friends retrieving their bikes from a rack chimed in on mask-wearing, with one stating that the heat makes it worse while another said that it’s pretty easy to wear a mask and that she was used to doing so. But they all agreed that their first day had gone well. “Even though I’m not in any classes with these two, I feel like I got to hang out with them and stuff and that was pretty exciting.”

Bessie Mbadugha

Bessie N. A. Mbadugha took a hiatus from her previous life as a Chemistry professor to devote more time to her family, and became an active leader in numerous community initiatives in Hillsborough, North...