As Challis kindergartner Brynlee Kidd practiced coloring in Lori Gregory’s class, she said she was so happy to be in school.

“It’s really cool and I’m really excited because it’s my first day,” she said.

Both Kidd’s teacher and Challis schools Superintendent Lani Rembelski said it was a long road to get to the first day of school this semester.

“I’m just glad we’re here,” Rembelski said. She spent the summer fine-tuning a plan that would allow students to return to classrooms after the coronavirus closed them last spring.

Gregory said she feels fortunate to teach in Challis. It took a lot of work to get the Challis Elementary School reopened, she said, but it helped that the school is in a sparsely populated district.

The biggest change for Gregory was splitting the kindergarten class of 21 students into two sessions, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

To get students back in classrooms, school staffers increase the volume of sanitation materials in classrooms and spaced students out at tables that face one direction to avoid close contact.

“That way they’re not facing each other and not breathing on each other,” Rembelski said.

Gregory said the key to teaching young children to be hygienic and follow physical distancing rules during the pandemic is to get them to focus on what they understand.

“You tell them it’s about not spreading germs,” Gregory said while she offered guidance about coloring to her students. “They know what those are.”

That’s exactly what she told her class as she explained how the school year would work. Gregory and para-professional Keri Evans said it’s mostly typical first-day stuff, like taking a tour of the school and explaining classroom etiquette.

“It seems pretty normal,” Evans said of the first day, chalking it up to the fact that Challis is an isolated district with a small student body . “I know we have our rules and regulations we have to follow now, but honestly it just feels kind of normal.”

Gregory turned carpet-sitting time into a lesson on the checkered, rainbow rug in the classroom. When the kids finished coloring, Gregory hyped them up for story time. Before they could begin, however, she said they would need to gather on the carpet in a very specific way.

“You can sit on the red squares, yellow squares, dark-green squares and purple squares,” Gregory told the kids. “Can you sit on the light-green squares?”

“No!” the class replied resoundingly.

Once they learned the rules the students left their desks in an orderly fashion and sat on the floor. When they were all on an approved color with at least one square of distance between each other, Gregory began reading the classic “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.”