MIDDLETOWN – Schools across the community opened for the first day of classes this morning.

Although everyone admitted it was a little different than a “typical” opening, everything went smoothly at Gaudet Middle School, where fourth graders were welcomed warmly by teachers and staff.

As students got off the bus, they were greeted to a chorus of “Welcome backs!” and “So good to see yous!” at the traffic circle by front of the Aquidneck Avenue school. Before they went further, each student was asked to wipe their hands clean with a squirt of sanitizer, reminded to wear their masks and practice safe social distancing.

It’s the first Middletown time students have been in the building for classes since late March, when the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools across the state.

“Not to jinx anything, but it’s been going really well so far,” Gaudet Principal Donna Chelf said. “The whole staff turned out and everyone is making this first day and fun one for the students. We have breakfasts for everyone if they want it, tours of the building, outdoor activities. It’s been a good day and even though I can’t see them behind their masks, I know students are smiling.”

Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger said the story was similar across town for kindergarteners at Aquidneck and Forest Avenue elementary schools and ninth graders at Middletown High.

In the first few weeks, Middletown schools are relying on a phased approach to opening, where not all the students are in the buildings at the same time. Some of those not in classes today participate in distance learning, where they rely on a district provided laptop computer and remote instruction from their teacher to grow and expand.

“We had our re-entry plan and the hard work was the implementation,” Superintendent Rosemarie K. Kraeger said. “At least on the first day with a limited number of students, it seems to be going really well. I want to thank all of our principals, teachers and staff for their hard work to help pull this off. We’re all thrilled to have the students back in class.”

Fifth grade teachers Robyn Borges and Donna Murphy were among a large group of teachers and staff by the new Gaudet main entrance wishing students well. Both agreed they were thrilled to return to school.

“It feels good,” Borges said. “It’s good to see the kids and it feels normal. This is what we do and what we want to do everyday.”

“I’m excited to be back,” Murphy said. “It’s a little different with a mask, but everyone is going to get used to that. I really like how the school organized this welcoming. It feels like a very special day here at Gaudet.”

After students arrived at school, they were directed to a ballfield at the back of the building. There, they were asked to meet up with an assigned teacher and then heard from Chelf about the importance of practicing safe habits. For example, she asked students to hold their arms out to their sides and if they could touch a fellow student, they were too close.

Throughout, students were reminded to wear masks, stand at least six feet apart and wash their hands regularly.

“Have a really good day, ask lots of questions and remember, you are a Gaudet Islander now and you rule,” Chelf said before small groups of students left to tour the building and grab breakfast.

“Keep that space, keep that space,” Gaudet support coordinator Keith Edwards encouraged students as they left the field. “You guys are doing great! Have a good day.”

Following a tour and several other activities, Cian McInerney [CQ BOTH] and his classmates were given a chance to go into the central courtyard, an open-air space in the middle of the building to remove their masks.

Sitting on a picnic table at least 10 feet from anyone else, the fourth grader said it was good to be back at school. He came to the Gaudet Learning Academy via Forest Avenue elementary.

“It’s been really good and really fun so far,” Cian said. “It’s been awhile, but I was looking forward to this day.”

At the same time, Cian said it was good to have the mask break for a bit. The principal Chelf said safe mask breaks would be offered to students whenever and as much as possible.

“I like reading and writing, especially the Harry Potter books,” said Cian, sporting a Baby Yoda mask. “It’s good to be back and I’m looking forward to this year.”

Nearby, Chelf said that’s what school at Gaudet – and Middletown – was all about.

“Everyone seems pretty comfortable,” Chelf said. “I know it’s a bit different and we’re all going to need to get used to it, but we’re all in this together and all about keeping everyone safe.”