AMESBURY — Free lunches and face masks will be the rule of the day for the city's schoolchildren when they return to classes Wednesday morning. 

Wednesday and Thursday will mark the first days of the 2021-22 school year before students are given Friday and Monday off for Labor Day. Superintendent Elizabeth McAndrews said she and fellow educators are excited to get back to school in as normal a manner as possible.

"I want all of our parents to know that we are beyond excited to have their children with us in person," McAndrews said. "They should also know that we will really be focused on getting to know the students during the first couple of days. We will also be taking care of administrative tasks and checking in with students to see how they are doing and starting to begin to build those relationships."

The state requires all public school students, staff and visitors to wear face masks, except when eating and drinking or if they are outside.

"We are leaving the timing of the mask breaks up to the individual teachers," McAndrews said. "It is a little bit different at every grade level."

She also many staff members are disappointed they will not be returning to the traditional, maskless experience it was before March 2020.

"I think the excitement of having kids back, full and in person, transcends their disappointment," she said. "They can also return to some of the small, group work that they used to do in the classrooms. These are things that help them with their instructions, so I think they are excited about that."

McAndrews said any student who is out sick will still have access to assignments through Google Classroom and they will be able to schedule time for extra help from their teachers.

"Every teacher has one prep period and a duty period most of the time at the high school," she said. "Then, there will be extra help time embedded into the middle school and high school day. Elementary kids will need to coordinate with their classroom teacher for times to communicate. That is where we are at right now."

The superintendent said breakfasts and lunches will be free to all students this year, thanks to waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"We are striving to keep a 3-foot distance between students at lunches," she said. "Other than that, we are trying to do as most of our business as usual as we can during lunches."

McAndrews said the first two days of school will be dedicated to acclimating students and staff while the transition to more academic content will begin Sept. 7.

"I think it's important to note that co-curricular activities will begin again this year," she said. "All of the buildings have something to offer all of the students like the Newspaper Club at the high school. There are also about three or four activities that we have reinstated at the elementary level. The middle school has also reinstated a bunch as well. Athletics have already begun, so kids are already active there."

The district will welcome two new additions in Amesbury Elementary School Principal James Montanari and Amesbury Middle School Principal Jarred Haas. Danielle Ricci will continue as interim principal at Amesbury High School.

McAndrews gave her opening remarks to district teachers and staff Monday morning. 

"You could really feel how happy they were that they are going to be able to be with their students," McAndrews said. "I think they all also see that there were some benefits to our forced-skill learning last year and they can see how it impacts the classrooms positively. 

"The excitement, attitude and passion are right there where they would be at the beginning of a school year overall," she added. "The healthy anxiety that we have as we start a school year was also palpable."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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