New year, new school, new regulations: Baxter Elementary opens doors at new location for in-person learners

“I think that my staff are very well-versed in what we need to do. We’ve worked hard to prepare and be ready, and I think it’s going to be awesome."

Misty Myers comforts her son Aiden's nerves on the first day of school at Baxter Elementary School Tuesday, Sept. 8. Aiden's older brother Logan helped him into school, as parents were not able to enter the building due to COVID-19 restrictions. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch.

Brisk weather and a brand new building welcomed Baxter students to the 2020-21 school year Tuesday, Sept. 8.

“I’m feeling grateful that we’re here, that the community helped us get here and that this brand new building is wide open,” Baxter Elementary School Principal Tammy Stellmach said Tuesday after greeting students.

The two-story, five section school sits on a newly constructed portion of Jasperwood Drive and opened its door to students and staff for the first time this year. The drop-off process went pretty well for the first day, Stellmach observed, with a steady stream of cars pulling up to the pickup/drop-off entrance, which is separate from the doors where buses unloaded students. Justin Maaninga, who worked as a project manager on the school’s construction with ICS, looked on from the sidewalk to see how things played out, especially after so many conversations about the layout and drop-off procedures. It will likely take some time for parents to learn to pull as far forward as they can and to make use of the passing lane when they’re finished, he said, but he was pleased for the first day and noted the entrance was clear by 8:13 a.m.


Quinn Ferry waves goodbye to her dad, Nick, on the first day of school, as Baxter Elementary School Principal Tammy Stellmach welcomes her to the building Tuesday, Sept. 8. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

But the new building wasn’t the only change. Students came equipped with face masks of all colors of the rainbow, and parents had to say goodbye to their children at the door, rather than walking through the halls to their classrooms. For those who couldn’t make the open house night, not being able to go inside and meet their child’s teacher was difficult. Instead, they craned their necks to watch through the window as staff guided students to their destinations.

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Many parents still hopped out of the car for a quick picture and goodbye hug.

Sam and Kat Jourdan said their kindergartener was both nervous and excited for her very first day of school. Though not usually the most emotional people, they said their daughter’s enthusiasm made them excited as well.

Jessica Keck (right) makes sure her daughter, Alaina Bahr, has her mask on correctly before going inside Baxter Elementary School on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 8. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Others showed more reserve, reluctant to leave their parents’ side on the first day. Misty Myers’ son Aiden clung to his mother, not ready to step inside until big brother Logan swooped in and led the way.


For older students, it has been nearly six months since they were in school with their classmates after the coronavirus pandemic shut schools down in March, forcing everyone into distance learning. Fourth graders Maggie Bernu and Hope Doty both said they were looking forward to being in school and seeing their friends.

Sam Jourdan hugs his daughter goodbye on her first day of kindergarten Tuesday, Sept. 8, outside Baxter Elementary School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch.

Though smiles were hidden behind masks, school board member Charles Black Lance said he was pleased to see students’ big, bright eyes as he greeted them at the doors after dropping off his fourthgrade son, Chayton. After previously attending Lowell Elementary School, Chayton was excited to be in the new Baxter school, Black Lance said, noting there were many drives past the front doors in anticipation of the new building opening.

While some students will remain at home this year, learning remotely during the pandemic, Stellmach is glad the building is ready for those who came in person.

Kristi Hardy hugs her daughter Ava goodbye on the first day of school Tuesday, Sept. 8, at Baxter Elementary School. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“I’m really overwhelmed to be at this point,” she said. “You have a vision in your mind, and then you finally see it on paper when people draw it out, and then you start to see the walls go up, and it is so overwhelming to see it all come all together. It’s amazing.”


It has been a long 2 1/2 year road to get to this point, she said, but she is proud of the work — from builders, staff and administrators — that went into getting the new school ready and is confident the right protocols are in place to make it a great year.

“I think that my staff are very well-versed in what we need to do. We’ve worked hard to prepare and be ready, and I think it’s going to be awesome,” Stellmach said. “We are ready to get kids outside on the brand new playground area. We are very much spread out for lunches so we can have lunch out of the classroom and in the cafeteria, on the stage and in the gym. So we’ve worked hard to spread things out, and I’m excited. We are 100% ready.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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