Happy smiles graced the mostly mask-free faces of more than 2,300 students as classes began Monday morning at North Lamar ISD for another year of coronavirus pandemic uncertainty.

With Covid-19 cases, especially those from the delta strain, on the rise in Lamar County and a no-mask mandate from Gov. Greg Abbott, schools are left with few options to fight the highly contagious virus except with extra sanitation measures and steady reminders for students and staff to wash hands often.

Parent Cindy Robinson, who dropped off her fifth grade son at Bailey Intermediate, said she is a little concerned about Covid-19 but knows school staff is “doing all they can under the circumstances.”

“Attendance today was about what our enrollment was at the end of school last year, so we are expecting total numbers to increase slightly,” Assistant Superintendent Leslie Watson said Monday afternoon.

Numbers totaled 312 students at Higgins Elementary, 224 at Parker Elementary, 264 at Everett Elementary, 283 at Bailey Intermediate, 513 at Stone Middle School and 715 at North Lamar High School.

Brogan Robinson, 10, was all smiles but said he is a little nervous about fifth grade.

“I will have four teachers now, so that will be different,” he said. “Math and science are my favorite subjects.”

Computer lab instructor Falon Pilkington greeted students at the door with a big smile.

“I am so happy to see school starting again, and I have seen a lot of smiling faces this morning so I know students are glad to be here,” the teacher added.

Cor’Taezion Hickson, also a fifth grader, said he has had a good summer but missed his friends.

“I’m kinda nervous, but my mother said she loves me and that I’ll do just fine,” he said.

Bailey Principal Angela Compton greeted students at the parent drop-off site as she directed traffic.

“We work this traffic so everyone will be safe,” Compton said, adding her staff seems excited and most were at school early to help make sure school gets off to a good start.

Police Chief Mike Boaz seemed pleased with the traffic flow, especially in “the hub” between Bailey Intermediate and Stone Middle School.

“We made a few alterations to get buses in and out, and I think that helped the overall flow,” Boaz said. “I don’t think we had the usual back-up on 271, and I don’t think it was too bad on the loop. I saw a lot less head shaking from drivers and students with a lot of happy faces.”

Later in the day, Compton reported a good first-day start.

“We had lots of smiling faces, hugs and stories being told about summer adventures,” Compton said. “I know all the students enjoyed meeting their new teachers and catching up with friends.”

Other principals reported much the same first day results.

“We have had a wonderful first day of school,” Higgins Elementary Principal Lori Malone said. “We love seeing all the smiling faces coming up and down our hallways, in our cafeteria and especially in our classrooms. We are looking forward to a great school year.”

Stone Middle School Principal Dee Hudson talked about excitement.

“It was great seeing how excited students were to be back at school,” Hudson said. “We are looking forward to a great school year with lots of exciting events planned.”

Ready to begin his 55th year with North Lamar ISD, Stone Middle School science teacher Kenny Sanders said he spent the day welcoming new students to his classroom and greeting the many students from the past couple years who dropped by to say hello.

“My first day of school was just super,” Sanders said near the end of the day. “The kids were ready to come back, and we just had a lot of fun.”

When asked if this might be his final “first day of school,” Sanders was quick to say he would depend on “the good Lord” to make that decision but that he continues to enjoy being in the classroom and being a part of his students’ lives.

Superintendent Kelli Stewart echoed the excitement of the day.

“We are excited to welcome all of the students back to in-person learning,” Stewart said. “As always, for some of our students it is the last ‘first day of school’, and for some the first ‘first day of school.” Regardless of what grade our students are in, we want them to treasure the excitement and anticipation of a new school year at North Lamar ISD.”

Mary Madewell is a staff writer for The Paris News. She can be reached at 903-785-6976 or at mary.madewell@theparisnews.com.

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