MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a day that this past spring, may have seemed far off — but thousands of students walked back into their schools Monday.

WCCO was there to see how one high school did on day one, teaching in-person during a pandemic.

While the differences this year at Totino-Grace seem obvious, it’s what hasn’t changed that McKenzie Ngyen noticed.

“After a while, I didn’t even notice I was wearing it,” McKenzie Ngyen noted about her mask.

“It was nice seeing people. Just like seeing teachers, and friends and all that just being in the setting again because I did not like online school,” she added.

Ngyen is one of 680 students back at the high school for a new year. All but 20 opted to return to in-person learning and all staff members did the same.

Jim Dahlman is a 9th-grade physics teacher.

“It’s really coming to school every day and seeing the students and getting to know them really why I got into teaching and why I’m looking forward to this year,” Dahlman said.

Dahlman will keep his class size to 15 at a time. The others will rotate learning remotely in the library or theater. Hand sanitizing stations are close by and areas disinfected consistently throughout the day. Classes will also be a bit longer so students don’t move around as much.

Students are also allowed to carry their backpacks for the first time this year. Teachers don’t want them going to their lockers or spending extra time in the hallway.

Dr. Craig Junker is president of Totino-Grace.

“They want normalcy. They want to see their teachers, they want to see their classmates they want to go back to school,” he said.

To prepare for a possible COVID-19 outbreak, in two weeks students will spend a week again distance learning at home. It is a way to work out the bugs and practice if things don’t go as planned.

Balancing science and safety in a whole new way.

“It was nice to have energy back in the building. March 12 was a long time ago. We haven’t seen these kids in a long time,” Dr. Junker said.

Liz Collin