Thousands of Calgary students headed back to school on Tuesday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic forced an early close in March.
And it was a much more unusual first day back with some schools a bit quieter than usual with staggered re-entrance.
Students could be seen outside some northwest Calgary schools with masks on, practising social distancing by stretching their arms out at their sides and having to sanitize before entering the building.
Sandra Van Veen had one daughter starting Grade 5 at Twelve Mile Coulee School on Tuesday, marking her first day of middle school.
The day was a reserved for just that grade in the school's staggered entrance program.
"I think it went quite smoothly considering," Van Veen said.
"After being off for almost five and a half months, I think there was a lot of excitement, get back to routine, and seeing friends. And she's definitely missed that social aspect of it," she said.
Van Veen added there wasn't much anxiety in the morning before heading to school. Because her daughter has had to wear a mask in many public places already, wearing one to school didn't seem too unusual, she said.
"I think it felt quite normal to just put it on again today to be around people," Van Veen said.
Van Veen said it could be a bit chaotic on Friday at the school, when all grades return together.
"We'll have to see how that goes. But they have designated doors — I think that will make a difference," she said.
Aarika Chowhry, 8, is starting Grade 4 at Eric Harvie School in northwest Calgary and said she's only a little nervous about the usual things, like if a teacher gets mad at her if she does something wrong.
The school welcomed just Grade 3 and 4 students on Tuesday, according to the school's website. Only Grade 1 and 2 students will attend Wednesday, while kindergarten students have staggered entry dates on Wednesday and Thursday.
Aarika said she's looking forward to making new friends and not really concerned about wearing a mask at school — she's been practising wearing one and she's getting better at it.
Paige Millen, 8, also headed into Grade 4 on Tuesday at Eric Harvie.
She said she wasn't really nervous about her return to school and said she was most looking forward to seeing her teacher.
But she said the mask is a bit uncomfortable to breathe in but added she's not too nervous about having to wear it.
"It's for our own safety," she said.
Creative COVID-19 measures
With new health guidelines in place — some schools are getting creative with how they're promoting social distancing at school.
For students at Eric Harvie School in northwest Calgary on Tuesday, they were each handed a hula hoop when they walk in the door. School principal Lorraine Kinsman said for a kindergarten to Grade 4 school, the hoops are a familiar way to enforce a fairly new concept: physical distancing.
"They will get used for hoop contests eventually. But in the beginning, especially for the younger ones, it's a nice way for them to physically be able to think of, you know, I need to stay away from the person in front of me. I can't hug every teacher I see," Kinsman said.
Students will be encouraged to carry their hoops when traveling in the hallways, moving about classrooms and when working in groups away from their desks.
Derailed first days
The first day back was derailed due to COVID-19 at some schools. That includes the Meadows Ridge School in Okotoks, south of Calgary, which did not open as planned Tuesday after a staff member was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Canyon Meadows School in Calgary was to open as planned Tuesday, but the principal, assistant principal and administrative secretary were forced into a 14-day quarantine after someone at the school tested positive for the coronavirus.
And the Peace River School Division, northwest of Edmonton, posted a notice on its website saying it was delaying the start of its school year until after Labour Day so as to give teachers more time to get used to safety protocol and to prepare their classrooms.
Most schools in Calgary will have welcomed all their students by next week.