McKinney, Texas - It has been rather aptly referred to as the “second” first day of school.

As students arrived at McKinney ISD campuses on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 3 on foot, by bus and at the drop off lane, there was a celebratory air that certainly felt like the first day back after a long summer—in spite of the fact that the 2020-2021 school year actually kicked off three weeks ago, albeit in a virtual setting.

With everyone in masks, the smiles were a bit harder to read, but they were there.

“It’s so great to see you in person!” exclaimed art teacher Amanda Hughes as students strolled into her classroom at McKinney High School—a reunion of sorts for Hughes and students who had taken her classes the previous year. “I can’t believe how tall you’ve gotten!”

That scene was playing out all across the district. “We are so excited to have our boys and girls back in the building,” enthused Wolford Principal Fran Gratt. “We have missed them since March. Who ever thought in March when we went for spring break that we wouldn’t be coming back [until now]? It’s just wonderful to have the children in the building, to be able to see them. I know that they’re excited to be back, too. And, we couldn’t be happier at Wolford.”

Next door, at Evans Middle School, Principal Darla Jackson and a vanguard of teachers welcomed students back to campus as they arrived in the drop off lane in front of the school. Once inside the building, students encountered not only more teachers and staff, but also Evans cheerleaders scattered throughout the halls holding signs asking, “Need help?” and offering assistance to students who were new to the school.

“It’s really exciting [to be back] because I’ve been home all this time,” said seventh grade cheerleader Samantha Sampo from behind her mask, as she stood in the school’s main corridor. “And, to just get to come here and help students out and cheer for my school…it’s really fun.”

McKinney ISD Superintendent Dr. Rick McDaniel stopped at Evans as he made his way around the district to welcome students and staff back to in-person learning. He visited with teachers and students in the hall and poked his head into classrooms for a quick wave and “Welcome back!” At the intersection of two hallways, he paused to take advantage of one of the hand sanitizing stations that dot the MISD landscape these days.

Hand sanitizer is, of course, just one piece of the health safety protocols in place on MISD campuses that include—among other measures—face masks for staff and students (ages 10 and older), social distancing in classrooms and an enhanced school cleaning regimen. (For more information about MISD student and staff safety protocols, click here and here)

“Like many districts around our area, McKinney ISD enjoyed an exciting first day of in-person learning,” said McDaniel, later. “Our students were extremely excited to be back with their teachers and friends, and our teachers were even more excited to see the kids again.

“While this past spring and summer have definitely not been without their challenges, I believe the opening day of in-person learning reflected the tremendous amount of work done behind the scenes to prepare and implement safety protocols for all. The MISD Technology Department should also be recognized for their tremendous work in taking on the challenge of deploying and supporting over 13,000 new electronic devices,” added McDaniel.

“Overall, despite the many challenges this pandemic has caused, I believe our start to the 2020–2021 school year has been excellent, and we shall continue to try and improve in all areas as we navigate these unprecedented times,” said McDaniel.

After months apart, Sept. 3 marked a heartfelt reunion of teachers who have sorely missed their students—and students who have missed their teachers probably a bit more than they might readily admit.

And for a “second” first day, it was pretty great.