Pacelli, APS welcome back students

Published 11:28 am Monday, August 30, 2021

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Students, staff thrilled to be back, COVID still hovers


On Monday morning, Pacelli Catholic Schools Principal Kane Malo walked along the sidewalk, coffee in hand and the sound of a car alarm serenading him from the parking lot.

“Welcome to the first day of school,” Malo quipped with a smile. “I probably should find out whose car that is.” 

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However, Malo wouldn’t have traded the day, as a parade of students entered the school for a new year.

There was an atmosphere of excitement throughout the morning as students posed for back-to-school photos near the entrance to the building.

“The best part is just the smiling of the kids,” Malo said. “The kids were happy to be back in school.”

Across the street at Austin High School, the feeling was much the same for Austin Public Schools’ new superintendent, Dr. Joey Page.

Smiles and excitement ran across the board, from the high school to Ellis Middle School and I.J. Holton Intermediate School and down to the elementary schools.

For Page, a lot of fun this first day began before the students even entered the buildings.

“One of the things we did is we had student keynotes this year at our welcome back with staff,” Page said. “It all started there, just to hear their excitement for being back and being around their friends. I think that’s just been the best part of this.”

It seems like a long time to get to this point. The 2019-20 school year saw the closure of schools throughout the state during the first onslaught of the pandemic. The following school year was a mix of at-home learning, limited students in classrooms and the occasional shift back to distance learning when an outbreak raised its head.

But all throughout the pandemic, schools have endured, and the idea that this year might be closer to normal is first and foremost among administrator’s minds.

“The staff is extremely happy to be here,” Malo said. “They are excited to be working with kids again. Just being able to see the smiling happy faces of staff and students is so much better than it was last year.”

In Malo’s case, however, it’s hard to know what normal would be like. His first year as principal was the 2019-20 school year and since then, he has yet to see what a normal year might look like.

“I hope that as we progress we can experience a full school year with all the elements of Homecoming, Catholic Schools Week and Snow Week,” Malo said.

Despite the fact that kids are in school for five days and there is no mask mandate (though masks are recommended at both schools) APS and Pacelli, along with everybody else, are still having to go through the year under the coronavirus shadow.

Driven by the delta variant, numbers continue to rise in the state and in Mower County, requiring districts to continue working closely with county health officials.

It’s a fact of life at this point.

I think part of that is what we’ve shared before on this,” Page said. “One is taking a proactive approach starting with the district COVID team; keeping folks updated weekly on rates coming out of the summer. The other part is just to keep everyone in the loop as far as what’s happening. We’re going to continue to use public health agencies and keep everyone informed.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is first-day nerves,

“I can remember my first day as a fourth-grade teacher and the excitement and anxiousness I had then,” Page said. “I still have that as a superintendent.”