Parents and students milled around Kellogg Middle School in Southeast Portland Wednesday morning, waiting to enter the middle school, newly rebuilt from 2017 bond funds.

It’s one of two new school buildings Portland Public Schools students entered for the first time Wednesday. The other is Leodis V. McDaniel High School in Northeast Portland, which was renamed last year, as well as being rebuilt

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For all PPS students, the first day of school marked a return to classrooms; for many, including eighth grader Joey, it was a return after a long absence. He spent last year at home, doing distance learning.

“I’m ready to start the new year, after all this stuff happened, I’m ready,” he said. “I think it’s going to be fun.”

He’s excited about science class with his “favorite teacher,” he said.

Students approach a door while an adult stands outside wearing a mask and holding a radio and a clipboard.

Kellogg Middle School principal Richard Smith greets students on the first day of school September 1, 2021.

Elizabeth Miller / OPB

Principal Richard Smith held the door open for students, welcoming them into the school, while staff helped students get schedules and register at tables in front of the school’s entrance.

Parents and family members walked students to the front door, but that’s as far as they could go. Only students were allowed into the building.

“Take care of my baby!” one parent said to Smith.

“We will, we promise,” Smith responded.

Near the door, eighth grade student Jemel stood with his father. Jemel said he’s looking forward to making new friends after coming to Kellogg from Beaumont Middle School, in Northeast Portland.

“I’d rather do in-person school than online,” he said.

Amid the crowd of students and parents were Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero and PPS chief of staff Jonathan Garcia, as well as school board member Julia Brim-Edwards and board chair Michelle DePass. Some staff and board members visited multiple schools Wednesday morning to welcome and support students and their families.

It was DePass’ second stop on a tour of three.

“I find myself having the same emotions I’ve had for the first day for the last forty-something years,” DePass said.

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“The night before, what are you going to wear? Picking out your clothes, ... the anticipation of a new school year, the excitement, kind of nervous about wondering who your teachers are going to be.”

A dozen or more adults and students can be seen from behind as they face a school building and walk towards it. Many parents hold their chlidren's hands or hug them, and many children wear backpacks.

Students walk with their families into Kellogg Middle School in southeast Portland September 1, 2021.

Elizabeth Miller / OPB

Both Guerrero and DePass acknowledged the start of school coinciding with the continued impact of the delta variant on COVID-19 cases.

“When you talk to students and parents, family members, they’re nervous, they’re anxious. Everybody’s worried,” Guerrero said. “But you know what, I feel confident about the measures we’ve taken to ensure health and safety and try to minimize disruptions to learning.”

Those measures include hand washing, COVID-19 testing, masks and COVID-19 vaccinations. In addition, the school district has mandated having students eat lunch outdoors for the first six weeks of school.

At Kellogg, that means students will be able to sit in a vast courtyard, with a few tables.

An outdoor concrete space.

The courtyard at Kellogg Middle School on September 1, 2021. Students will be able to eat outside here, as well as at a few nearby tables to help mitigate the risks of COVID-19 during lunch time.

Elizabeth Miller / OPB

While vaccinations are required for PPS staff by October 18, under a rule announced by Gov. Kate Brown, the district does not know how many students are vaccinated. PPS Chief of Staff Jonathan Garcia said the district is hoping to have an idea of that number sometime this month.

“We are making plans right now to get a sense of what percentage of our students are vaccinated,” Garcia said. “We don’t have those numbers yet.”

Only children 12 and older are eligible to get vaccinated right now, and middle schools typically have students who are both above and below that age threshold.

Garcia said the only impact of having students with different vaccination statuses relates to how administrators will follow up on positive cases at school.

“It pertains to contact tracing...folks that are vaccinated, there’s different rules if you will for how quarantining and isolation would work,” he said. “I think that’s where there’s maybe going to be a lot more nuance here.”

For some Kellogg 6th graders, starting the new year at a new school brought a range of emotions.

Outside a school building, a handmade sign shows an emoji character wearing sunglasses, a hashtag, and the words "Kellogg strong"

Kellogg Middle School in southeast Portland on September 1, 2021, the first day of school.

Elizabeth Miller / OPB

For sixth grader Ella, the first day of school brought a lot of mixed feelings — from nervousness to excitement.

“I don’t want to have so many classes,” Ella said. “It’s hard to explain, I’m scared, I’m nervous about seeing people.”

Standing next to her, classmate Evie had those mixed feelings about more classes too. But she was also looking forward to having lunch outside.

“And I’m really excited to be back in real-life school,” Evie said.

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