When Elena Meves walked into Mayo High School for the first time Monday morning, it was a new experience for a couple reasons. It was her first time taking high school classes in an actual high school building, even though she’s been a freshman since the start of the school year. For that matter, it was her first time stepping into any classroom in more than a year.

And what an odd school year it has been.

For Meves, as well as a small army of middle and high school students throughout Rochester, Monday marked the first day of their return to in-person classes.

“Transitioning back to in-person is so weird,” Meves said. “We had to transition into the distance-learning system, and so personally, that’s all I have known for my high school experience; this is shifting into a completely different scenario and adjusting to another experience. It’s definitely exciting and a bit nerve wracking, for sure.”

Elena Meves is a freshman at Mayo High School. (Contributed photo)
Elena Meves is a freshman at Mayo High School. (Contributed photo)

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There are 1,437 high school freshmen throughout the district, although that includes students who are choosing to remain in distance learning rather than return to the school buildings. There’s also a host of sixth-graders entering their middle school campuses for the first time.

And yes, things look different than when students left their schools in March 2020. Masking is obvious. Families are asked to self-screen themselves for symptoms before coming to school. “Staff are strongly encouraged to wear face shields, in addition to masks, when providing direct student contact supports,” the district’s mitigation policy says. The policy also says that students, if possible, should not be seated across from each other during lunch breaks.

When schools first went into distance learning last year, it was a matter of taking things day-by-day for Meves. It was an odd situation, to be sure, but she took it in strides. As things continued to evolve and the date to return to in-person learning continued to be moved back, it became a process of figuring things out in the so-called "new normal."

It was a change to learn to do things in isolation, even if there were technically other students logged onto the same virtual class. Now, it's a change to walk into a building with thousands of other people walking the same halls.

"I just think all of us have learned something from this experience, have grown from this experience in whatever way it may be," Meves said. "Especially considering we were isolated for so long, you get to learn a lot of things about yourself. It's been a journey. I think each of us will learn from that experience hopefully and take that with us in the future."