GEMS students photo

GEMS first day of classes seemed typical: Teacher Mrs. Robinson greeted students; Kolby Nail kicked a football; students lined up and marched into class.

GRANGVILLE – The first day of school, Sept 2, at Grangeville Elementary Middle School (GEMS) seemed like most any other in the past decade.

Teachers greeted students. Students huddled in groups showing off new backpacks and laughing. Kids and teachers hugged, or fist bumped.

GEMS principal Adam Uptmor donned a bright blue school-color shirt and visited with dads, moms and kids.

“It’s so good to see you,” teacher Micha Campbell offered many side hugs and greetings. “Have a fantastic first day!”

One may have never known school had not been in session for nearly six months when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down everything. The only signs things were different were the questions in the air – will this last? – and the sight of a few students and staff wearing masks, as well as a few reminders to spread apart a bit, or show physical distance.

“I feel like it has gone very well. Everyone was very excited to be back in school,” Uptmor said Sept. 9. “We have a few new procedures that we are adjusting to, but it seems like we are getting more efficient in all our procedures.”

Prior to the start of school, parents throughout the county had mixed feelings about it.

“I feel apprehensive and a little worried. With the school in the state that it’s in, losing teachers left and right, things so uncertain with this pandemic, it’s actually kind of overwhelming,” said Kiki Abebe of Grangeville. “But, my son is excited to start and I’m glad that the school left it open to the parents to decide what they want to do, that they had different options for everyone."

New Cottonwood resident Mary Ann Stout-Sexton said she felt a little hesitant as her family is welcoming a new baby the end of October.

“Regardless of COVID, I’d still feel the same because kids are germ magnets. Gracie will attend school until we welcome her little sister into the world, then, depending on COVID cases in the area, she will either stay in school or we will have her do distanced learning, which will be interesting with a newborn,” she said.

“We placed Bella in IDLA [Idaho Digital Learning Academy] to be safe with her asthma,” said former GEMS teacher and parent Cody Dame.

Chandra Kelley, of Grangeville, said she has always had a strong belief in the schools.

“Although we are having problems in our district, I still believe there are some honorable people in our schools teaching our kids. Sadly, with all the COVID stuff, things will be more difficult, and we can only do what we can,” she said. “I choose to send my son to high school and have the most normal schooling we can acquire for him. I stand by our schools and the decision to proceed on with the year and try to be as normal as possible till we are told otherwise.”

“We are remote learning with Sts. Peter and Paul School,” said Rachel Young. “I am hoping testing turnaround times improve.”

“My grandkids and I are excited for school to start,” said GEMS maintenance personnel Jamie Russell. “They need their teachers and their friends. Six months is way too long to be off, and this comes out of their own mouths!”

“I can only add that I am so glad I don't have to make this decision! My kids are in their 30s,” Nancy Moser of Grangeville said.

“We are going to send the kids to high school and sit back and watch for a bit to see how it goes. Our main reason is that I strongly believe that one of the most important things about school is being social,” explained Tonya Cassill, a Lewis-Clark Early Childhood (Head Start) preschool teacher out of GEMS. “Children need social skills, and to learn about emotions. They need to learn these two things first to be able to succeed in other things. With lots of prayer and faith we also believe God has a plan. This alone gives us peace. There are many options out there if it does come to home schooling.”

“My kids are excited to be back to school and see all their friends and teachers,” said Jade O’Brien.

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