Central Aroostook Junior/Senior High School staff members Erick Martinez, left, Sadie Shaw, center, and Charity Howlett, right, prepare to greet students as they return to school in Mars Hill on Wednesday. Credit: David Marino Jr. / The Star-Herald

MARS HILL, Maine — Students in Mars Hill and Easton returned to school Wednesday, becoming some of the first in Maine to navigate the new terrain of in-person education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

SAD 42 students — who come from Mars Hill, Blaine and Bridgewater — will begin the school year under a hybrid model in which they attend school in shifts, half in the morning and half in the afternoon. Students will spend the other half of the day working on schoolwork at home.

Central Aroostook Junior/Senior High School students are greeted by Sadie Shaw, right, as they begin their first day of school on Wednesday, Aug. 12. Credit: David Marino Jr. | The Star-Herald

Several students came off the bus at Central Aroostook Junior/Senior High School in Mars Hill early Wednesday morning, all donning newly mandated face masks. Three staff members were waiting to welcome them back to in-person classes after a five-month absence.

Many other students were dropped off by their parents or guardians.

All Central Aroostook students had their temperatures checked by a staff member as they entered the school, a district policy not mandated under the Maine Department of Education’s reopening guidelines, which only requires a self-check for students/families.

The Easton School Department also began classes on Wednesday. The district’s reopening plan is technically a hybrid model, though remote learning will only be offered to families who opt their students out of in-person classes.

Erick Martinez, right, checks a student’s temperature on the first day of school at Central Aroostook Junior/Senior High School on Wednesday, Aug. 12. Credit: David Marino Jr. | The Star-Herald

Six feet of distance is expected to be maintained at all times — even with masks. This is double with the three feet required between masked students the DOE mandates.

Easton Superintendent Mark Stanley said the first day had brought a range of emotions including nerves and anxiety as staff made sure they implemented new rules correctly, along with the usual excitement that comes with the beginning of any school year.

Stanley said his staff had diligently followed new health and safety procedures as they began instruction for the new year. Apart from the “peculiar” new circumstances, he said much of the day had gone as usual. 

“Children tend to adapt to changes much more easily than adults,” Stanley said. “I was so pleased to see that all the kids fell into a safe, comfortable routine and began their educational experience again.” 

The Mars Hill and Easton districts will include lengthy harvest breaks that take students out of classes for several weeks in the fall.

Presque Isle High School students will have their first full day on Aug. 20 while K-8 students in SAD 1 begin on Sep. 8. Students in SAD 32 — covering Ashland, Garfield Plantation, Masardis and Oxbow Plantation — begin on Sep. 8. SAD 45 begins Aug.19 while Fort Fairfield students in SAD 20 will begin classes on Aug. 31.