Monday marked another first day of school for Pierce County students that was both business as usual and one for the history books.

Tiny tykes and teens too big for their britches all headed to class bright and early  —  some with smiles, some with tears pooling in their eyes. Kids ran into school while others stumbled sleepily, dragging a backpack or lunchbox behind them, and school administrators reported a fairly smooth opening day, even with the arms’ length list of new health regulations and safety protocols implemented to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Those rules prevented The Times staffers from following many students into their classrooms to document those precious memories with a shutter snap. We stood outside or along a hallway, rather, clicking photos of masked children walking into class alone or holding the hand of an older sibling perhaps. I watched as teachers helped unload kids from a line of cars where drivers were dropping off students rather than walking them in for their first day.

As odd as it was for us, it was heartbreaking for many parents. I heard more than one dad remark how tough it was to send his babies in alone. Many watched from the covered walkway at Midway Elementary until their tykes disappeared from view, guided by a comforting teacher or administrator to their new classroom.

My heart broke a little bit as one dad bent to give his daughter a pep talk before letting go of her hand. She smiled bravely even while her eyes welled with tears. 

Some students were jazzed about their newest school accessory  — the face mask  — while others were perplexed, attempting to smile for photos behind the mask even though my camera couldn’t capture their sweet grins.  

I was drawn this year to students’ eyes instead. Yes, many were sleepy and many were wide with excitement. That’s typical. Others mirrored emotions I haven’t observed so often among young ones headed to school. Confusion. Doubt. A few were fearful.

Adults may mask those emotions better, but we’ve all felt confusion, doubt and fear at some point in the last five months, too. No one really knows what lies ahead for the school year or many aspects of daily American life for that matter. We haven’t known with any certainty for months, yet we’ve forged ahead anyway. The opening of schools is testament to that fact. 

Sunday we had special prayer over the children and teens of our church headed back to school this week. Pastor’s comments were simple, to the point, but very much needed. He encouraged the congregation to continue taking the necessary safety precautions to fight this nasty virus, and then urged us to cover everything we do in prayer. 

Let’s move forward with faith, Pierce County, and show our children life goes on  — even when we’re afraid.

• Sarah Tarr Gove is news editor of The Blackshear Times. Email her at sgove@theblacksheartimes.com.