PHOTO STORY: Niles Community Schools welcomes back students

NILES — After a long summer away, smiling and laughing children once again filled the halls at Niles Community Schools this week.

Tuesday, Niles Community Schools returned to session for the 2021-2022 school year. Throughout the day, Superintendent Dan Applegate was on hand at the schools to help ensure everything ran smoothly.

“Today, everyone’s spirits are high,” he said. “The kids are excited. The staff are excited. Parents are excited. There are just smiles and smiles. There is a lot of excitement and enthusiasm. The kids are ready. They get to see their friends again. This is a really positive and uplifting start to the school year.”

Coming off of a difficult 2020-2021 school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Applegate said he was pleased to have such a positive first day Tuesday.

“There is a complete difference from last year,” Applegate said. “Last year, there was a lot of anxiety, a lot of fear. This year, I think people feel like we’ve been through it.”

Applegate believes his district is prepared if COVID-19 mitigations need to again be implemented.

“We know what we need to do,” he said. “Nearly 70 percent of our staff has been vaccinated. That is a huge variable in our school system to ensure our staff are safe. We continue to work with the Berrien County Health Department on all the numbers, all the cases and what we need to do to keep everyone safe. We have a really good relationship with them. We feel prepared, but, of course, there is still so much unknown.”

Despite the remaining unknowns, Applegate is excited for the coming school year and believes it will be a successful one.

“My hope is that we just have a ton of student success,” he said. “Our students are just phenomenal. They have a lot of talent, a lot of skill. Being in school and having extracurriculars associated with it allows them to showcase their talents. … I believe there will be a lot of student success, and that comes from having this really wonderful, dedicated staff to help them get there.”

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