ANDOVER -- Over the weekend, parents, school staff and even the junior varsity baseball team were at Andover High School with yardsticks and other measuring tools, scoping out how to best fit everyone in school Monday — the day 1,400 students would come back into the building together for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

"There's an energy to the building and it feels great," said Principal Caitlin Brown. "Even though we have masks, we can see smiles under there."

Space has long been an issue at Andover High School, and the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the overcrowding issues.

When Brown and other district officials first briefed the School Committee about ending the hybrid schedule and fully returning to school, they were most worried about having space for all 1,400 students in each class. Only about 300 of the school's approximately 1,700-person student population opted to remain in the remote model.

There were contingency plans to have desks set in the field house where students could remotely join their classes if there wasn't enough space. 

However, everyone fits in their classrooms with their teachers. Gym still can be conducted in the field house, and performing arts classes can still use the Collins Center.

"Having DESE (the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) come out and visit helped us know what we could do," Brown said of the department's recommendations on how to space classrooms.

She and other high school officials got to work moving classes to be in different spaces to accommodate the situation. Even on a good year teachers often change classrooms when they change groups of students because class sizes differ. This year there's just more movement, she said.

There's also lots going on outside — mask breaks and more classes. On Tuesday, there were trucks unloading the large tents that were to be set up Wednesday, Brown said.

Going outside is likely one of the best benefits of going to school in a pandemic, students passing by in the hallway told Brown.

"It's refreshing," one boy said on his way down the hall.

"We came a lot closer to normal than we expected," said Claudia Bach, interim superintendent.

Now, everyone is looking forward to enjoying the last few weeks together.

There will be more planning and juggling for next year, when nearly 1,700 students will be back under one roof.

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