With hugs, rainbow walkways and a horse, Vineyard children arrived for their first true first day of school in more than two years Wednesday, returning all together to classrooms across the Island.

While the start of the 2020 school year came in waves, with younger children going back to school in-person weeks before older children, and substantial coronavirus safety restrictions in place, the 2021 year beckoned with a greater sense of normalcy.

A full house on the first day at the Edgartown School. — Ray Ewing

Although masks are still required and a school Covid-19 testing program remains in place, gone were the three-to-six feet social distancing rules and at-home learning options. Kids were required to come to class, in-person. On Wednesday, the smiles were infectious.

At the West Tisbury School, principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt greeted hundreds of teachers and students at the front door, a practice she cherishes but had to adapt during the initial stages of the pandemic last year.

This year, she said, everyone feels different — particularly the teachers who get to begin the year with full, in-person instruction and children in their classrooms.

“Last year was a challenge for everyone,” Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said. “It just feels more grounded this year. Everyone is ready to go. It’s exciting, and it feels more normal, even though we do have Covid protocols in place.”

In Edgartown, children climbed out of the back seats of idling SUVs and trucks or walked up to the school with their parents, toting soft-sided lunch packs and bulky knapsacks, sporting brand-new sneakers and favorite T-shirts — and at least one button-down with a necktie.

Michael the quarter horse greeted students in West Tisbury. — Mark Alan Lovewell

All wore masks, welcomed by school administrators including principal Shelley Einbinder and assistant principal MaryAnn Bartlett

Hudson Lowry and his brother Wells returned to school with their little sister Magnolia, who was dressed in an ABC-patterned frock for her first day of kindergarten.

Hudson was toting his fifth-grade poster, a summer assignment he’d fulfilled with an astronaut thriller titled Space Case.

Space was also a theme for third-grader James Gould-Lamont, whose mask and backpack both sported interstellar designs.

“He’s been to NASA,” said James’s mother, Louisa Gould.

“We’re all thrilled that everybody’s back,” added principal Shelley Einbinder, as students and parents parted at the schoolhouse entrance.

All smiles in Edgartown. — Ray Ewing

Outside the West Tisbury School, librarian Stephanie Dreyer, decked out in a top hat, dress, flowers and a bedazzled deer antler, brought her quarter horse Michael to greet the children — a first day of school tradition dating back about four to five years.

“The kids love it,” Ms. Dreyer said. A parent pulled up to Ms. Dreyer and Michael, taking a picture with their child in front. “The adults love it too,” she added.

By 8 a.m., as older children marched off buses, greeting friends who they hadn’t seen all summer with hugs, the younger children gathered near the school’s rainbow walkway, each grade assigned a color. Kindergartners — their backpacks bigger than their backs — found their way to the red line, ready to walk into class for the first time.

Alice Dodge, in chromatic sneakers, colorful twisty-ties and a three-dimensional, ice-cream puff-ball tee shirt, took her spot.

“I’m a mixed bag, so proud and so sad,” her mom Kelly Arruda said. “But [Alice] is so excited, that makes it so much easier. She chose the whole outfit.”

Ms. Arruda attended the West Tisbury School when she was a kid. Alice is her first kindergarten drop-off.

“It’s a big day,” she added.

More pictures.