A student is greeted by instructional assistant Wanda Lazott on Monday, March 8. Photo: Chas Hundley

Close to 70 students returned to classrooms Monday morning at the Banks Elementary School. They arrived by car, bus, and on foot, in some cases joined by their families and a surprising amount of dogs. The morning was a brisk one, with the sun peeking through the clouds.

Waiting for them were school staff, teachers, and Banks School District superintendent Jeff Leo, greeting and guiding them to different school entrances — a COVID-19 safety measure — and making sure they had masks on.

Melanie Clinton, a Banks Elementary School instructional assistant, provides traffic control in front of the Banks Elementary School on Monday, March 8. Photo: Chas Hundley

Monday's students represent grades K through 2, and are the first wave of students to return under the hybrid learning model as part of the Banks School District's phased reopening plan. On March 15, grades 3 - 5 are planned to join their younger peers at the elementary school, while the Banks Middle School and Banks High School will see students back in the halls by March 29 in the district's hybrid learning plan. Students can opt out and instead continue to learn at home through comprehensive distance learning.

"All our planning has paid off so far," said Banks Elementary School principal Marjorie Salter. Two buses were a few minutes late for the 9:10 a.m. start time, but all seemed to go off without a hitch otherwise to start the half-day.

Banks Elementary School Principal Marjorie Salter on Monday, March 8. Photo: Chas Hundley

"It's been lighter than I expected," said Wanda Lazott, an instructional assistant. Monday morning, she staffed a "Meet and Greet" station, welcoming students, and allaying the last minute jitters of a nervous parent.

One last hug before a student enters the Banks Elementary School on Monday, March 8, 2021. Photo: Chas Hundley

With just months left in the school year, this is the first introduction to the inside of the school for some kindergarten students. Governor Kate Brown originally shuttered schools on March 16, 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in the U.S.

Some students displayed uncertainty, requiring a bit of coaxing to walk toward the school entrances.

And some ran.

A student runs toward the Banks Elementary School on Monday, March 8. Photo: Chas Hundley