HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Henrico students returned to the classroom Wednesday but it will be their last year going back to school after Labor Day.
CBS 6 visited Pocahontas Middle School to see some of the safety precautions the district is taking against the spread of COVID-19, and what students and parents can expect on the first day.
Currently, 1,537 students are enrolled in Henrico Virtual Academy. The district also made arrangements for another 543 elementary learners to participate in Virginia Department of Education's Virtual Virginia.
60% of the students at Pocahontas Middle School will walk through the doors for the first time in more than a year-and-a-half.
“I am so excited," said Principal Thomas McAuley.
He's ready for the challenge of keeping hundreds of students safe in a world where coronavirus cases continue to rise.
"We ask for hand sanitizer, if someone doesn’t have a mask, we provide that mask to them of course," McAuley explained.
The district is implementing several safety measures, such as designated desks and tables, social distancing and constant cleaning.
"It’s so important students sit at their assigned seat just for contact tracing purposes," said McAuley. “We care about the students so much, and we've really spent our time this summer, being intentional and really thinking through all the different steps that are necessary to keep students safe.”
School nurses, like Pocahontas Middle School nurse Karen Stricker, will have their hands full this year.
"We are making every safeguard that we can to bring these kids back safely and to keep them well," said Stricker.
With the help of one nurse aide, Stricker will be managing two clinics: a traditional nursing office where kids will receive routine medications and a room with students who have COVID symptoms.
She’ll also be working to contact trace and notify parents of potential exposures.
Stricker said the most important thing parents can do to make school nurses jobs more manageable is to get your child vaccinated for COVID-19.
"I understand that the COVID vaccine is a little bit new, but vaccinations have been around for a long time, and they've been proven safe," said Stricker. "I think that's very important to have the kids immunized.”
While COVID-19 precautions are important to Henrico school leaders, so is catching kids up on learning lost, and making sure they’re mentally prepared for the return to the building.
"We have many families, and also students who are a little anxious about coming back into school," McAuley noted. "Our goal is to create a sense of belonging for every single student at Pocahontas Middle School."
McAuley said he’s told parents he expects some delays the first day of school due to bus driver shortages, but he notes they have reconfigured their parent drop off loop to avoid cars lining up or parking on the side of Three Chopt Rd.
They can now fit 20 cars in the drop off line at one time instead of only six.
Like most counties, Henrico needs bus drivers, and they are hopeful the shortage doesn't lead to the same delays Chesterfield experienced on the first day of school.