RICHMOND, Va. -- Hundreds of students in Richmond and Henrico went back to school in-person for their first day Wednesday.
Leaders with both school districts said they have extensive COVID-19 mitigation plans in place to create the safest learning environments possible.
At Highland Springs High School, students like freshman Ti-Shaun Smith-Bates, walked through the doors of the brand new high school for the first time.
"It’s huge, and I like it," said Smith-Bates. "I feel like it will be exciting going in."
The over 265,000-square-foot building has been a project close to two years in the making, and other than a few hiccups of students not knowing where to register for class or enter the building, things appeared to be running smoothly on the first day.
"Our staff are ready to help keep our buildings safe, and each other safe, and the community safe," said Henrico Superintendent Dr. Amy Cashwell.
Cashwell knows not everyone is ready for the return to in-person learning, and around 2,000 Henrico students are learning virtually.
"With all of the excitement about the new year comes very real sense of concern and worry," she explained. "We understand that, and we are health and safety focused first."
Down the road in Richmond, Superintendent Jason Kamras greeted students at Chimborazo Elementary on the first day.
"Are you a little bit nervous today?," Kamras asked a student. "Yeah, I understand. Me too."
Wednesday was the first day 20,000 Richmond students returned to a classroom in more than a year-and-a-half.
"Here we are now, this year fresh start, and they are going to be in the school, so that’s awesome," said Richmond mom, Jasmine Archie.
Archie dropped her kindergarten son and first grade daughter off at school for the first time since they both learned virtually all last year.
“I’m excited," Archie noted. "I’m ready for them to meet new friends and Julise in first grade, so she did virtual last year. So I’m glad she’s able to get out the house and explore and have new friends."
Richmond Public Schools is following all nine of the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID mitigation strategies, including upgrading HVAC systems, adding air purifiers and testing students.
“That makes me kind of happy because I can be safe," said fourth grader Genesis Delaney.
Both Richmond and Henrico school leaders know they can’t completely prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their buildings, but they are doing all they can to ensure kids can stay in school.
"There will be some infections," said Kamras. "I wish I could guarantee you that there won't be, but there will. We will address it quickly, efficiently, transparently."
Both Henrico and Richmond are still short about 100 bus drivers.
Chesterfield said they have 45 drivers currently in training.
Both districts are offering incentives to try to make the transportation for students and families smoother.