MILWAUKEE — More students returned to Milwaukee Public Schools on Monday as the next phase of the district's transition to in-person learning continued.
This latest wave included students in 4th - 8th grades. Last week, those in K3 - 3rd grade were the first to head back to the classrooms.
Teachers and staff at Milwaukee Excellence Charter School welcomed back middle school students. It looked different as kids wore face masks and staff conducted brief health screenings.
"Kids are ecstatic. Parents are ecstatic. They're ready to get back to a sense of normalcy in the building where they can learn and build stronger relationships with their teachers and their classmates," said the middle school assistant principal Andrew Faber.
This day has been a long time coming. At Roosevelt Middle School, the principal said preparing for the return had to be methodical.
"Everything from PPE, measuring distance on the floor, making sure all the students have desk shields, and just really reaching out to the teachers and seeing what it is that makes them feel the most comfortable," Principal Tiffany Fisher explained.
More than half of MPS parents opted for in-person learning, including Fredrick Chambers, whose kids go to Townsend Street School.
"So they could have their social aspect of life as well. You can wear your mask now. The school said they're prepared. I have no problem," said Chambers.
Others like 7th grader Terrance Ilion chose to continue with virtual school, but he hopes this fall will be different.
"My mom did get the vaccine, but we still don't want to risk anything and she's kind of high risk," said Ilion. "I think by then the vaccines will be more available to people and younger people like me. So maybe in the fall, we will be able to get the vaccine and be able to go back in person."
Psychotherapist Dr. Jennifer Albright said after being away for so long, some kids are excited about the switch, but others may have a tougher time. She said some kids who have come to see her are experiencing a lot of anxiety.
Dr. Albright said extra family communication and coping skills may help.
"For parents, just checking in a lot and asking about the day, but also brainstorming what are some ways that we can help. And also trying to make it fun," said Albright.
Dr. Albright added that for kids, coping can include keeping something in your hand to squeeze when you start to feel stressed, feeling your stomach move with your breath, or slowly moving your feet in a walking motion.