FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – With backpacks hanging from their shoulders and masks secured to their faces, hundreds of students flooded into post schools Aug. 24 for their first day back.“It’s good to get out of the house and see people,” said Isabella Espinoza, 12, as she waited to enter Mahaffey Middle School.That morning, students and parents arrived at schools across the installation for the first time since March when they were closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. For many, it was a different experience than in the past as school staff enforced guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Defense Education Activity.Much planning and teamwork came together to get ready for post schools to reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Linda Haberman, principal of Mahaffey Middle School.“A lot of forethought went into this because when you think about health and safety for large numbers of students, you certainly take that personally – you want to make sure you have done everything you could to make sure all of your children and your staff are safe,” Haberman said.Isabella was among about 385 students who returned to Mahaffey in person for the start of the new school year. The school serves about 520 students, but some opted for a semester of virtual learning from home, Haberman said.“This first day, we really wanted to do a lot of building community, building culture, making them feel good about being back in school, reducing any stress they might feel and really work on building that communication, community and of course, health and safety,” she said.Lieutenant Colonel Brian Freidline, deputy commander for administration at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital, and wife, Missy, waited for school to start with their 14-year-old daughter, Anna, outside Mahaffey.“School is important,” Freidline said. “You’re always excited for her to start a new year with new teachers and new friends. She’ll be learning new things and there will be new opportunities. And it gets everyone back on schedule.”At Barkley Elementary School, Heather Pappas helped her 5-year-old daughter, Lily, with her rainbow mask. Pappas could not walk Lily to her classroom and greet her teacher as she would have in years past but Lily didn’t seem to mind.“I’m 100 miles excited,” Lily said.Pappas was a little more nervous. Lily, who has four siblings, is the only one old enough to attend school.“I never though her first day of school would be in a mask,” Pappas said. “I’m nervous, but excited, because she’s my oldest.”Kayla Lucas pushed a stroller with her infant, while standing in line outside Barkley, while her daughter, Ava, 6, wore a face mask with Disney’s “Frozen” characters that matched her backpack. She looked around for any friends while waiting to enter the school.“I’m anxious, but excited,” Lucas said. “You’re excited for her to start, but you don’t really know what to expect with [COVID-19].”Barkley Elementary School Principal Jenaya Parris said parents are not allowed inside the building to limit the number of people inside and practice social distancing.Parris greeted students at the door that morning. About 369 were signed up for in-person school and about 120 enrolled in virtual learning, she said.Parris said the morning went smoothly.“The kindergarten especially welcomed their students in our gym, where they were able to social distance, make eye contact and start right from the beginning of the day, making students feel welcome and like they belong,” she said. “And knock on wood, we didn’t even have any tears, so it was good.”Barkley Elementary School Guidance Counselor Teresa Moss started the first day with drop-off duty. She wore a face shield and held a stop sign as she beckoned parents to pull their cars forward outside the entrance to let their children out.Moss said she feels great to be back on campus.“It’s a little different, but it’s good to see the kids,” she said. “I’m here to help those kids let that anxiety bubble float away.”Fort Campbell High School Principal Thomas Whittle said the first day back was filled with excitement, learning and safety precautions.“It’s gone quite well, so far,” Whittle said. “We have had no issues with masks or students following the rules. There was not one issue with students not wearing a mask. The majority of our students did return.”Parents also cooperated and there were no problems with car drop offs or buses, he added.“They followed the new routine and if they didn’t know they asked,” Whittle said.Teachers and staff also were in high spirits to be returning to a routine, he said.“The faculty was happy to see the kids,” Whittle said. “They were happy to see that students wanted to be in school and had a desire to learn. It was quite exciting for people to get back to something close to normal.”Staff will provide academic and emotional support to help students “make sense of the new normal,” he said.