Thousands of students across New York City returned to fully open schools on Monday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the nation’s largest public school system more than a year and a half ago.

After working through both remote and hybrid learning, Monday marked the return to new kind of normal at the city’s 1,800 public schools, where students are now required to wear masks and staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19.

P.S 5 welcomed students back to its classrooms for the first day of school. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

At Bed-Stuy’s P.S. 5, the excitement of seeing friends and returning to school outweighed the fears posed by the virus, despite its increasing number of infections citywide.

Tito Lopez, 4, is entering first grade. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

For dad Luis Lopez, seeing his son Tito, 4, going back to the classroom was a happy moment for them both.

“Classes at school are better, they can question, interact. They have more space and feel much safer,” he said.

“You have to live day by day, and we have to learn with live with the virus and overcome.”

Miladis Araujo and her granddaughter Sinai Majan, 5. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

Miladis Araujo agreed, saying it was great to see her granddaughter Sinai Majan going back to school.

“It’s really special for us knowing that she’s happy and sharing with her friends again. Even though it was nice having her at home every day, I feel happy she’s back in the classrooms.”

For Carlina Huggins, her two children were so eager to return to P.S. 5, they couldn’t get to sleep on Sunday night.

“The first day of school went by without a problem for us; they were really excited to be back, they couldn’t sleep last night.

“They are really excited to be back and to see their friends,” she said.

Bryan Steffy and his son Max, 4. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

4-year-old Max said himself, “I’m really happy, super happy,” from behind his father Bryan’s legs.

“I’m still really nervous to send him back knowing that there’s no vaccine for kids under 12 and having the school at full capacity, but it’s mandatory and he is happy to be around other kids,” Bryan said.

“We are following protocols to stay safe and healthy”

Sharaya Phillips and her 4-year-old son who was entering first grade. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

Mother Sharaya Phillips shared those nerves, saying: “It was very scary to have the idea of sending him back knowing that everything is still going on and rising back up, but I know that he actually needs to be around other kids because he needs his social skills and he’s not getting that at home only with his parents and one sibling.

“Today I feel OK with it and we are following all the safety guidelines –  I’m going to get his clothes off and wash them as soon as we get in the house and straight to the shower.”

Lethania Salomon and her daughter Shanagani. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.

And for Lethania Salomon the fact that P.S. 5 had avoided any COVID-induced closures during the pandemic, gave her faith that her daughter Shanagani would be well looked after.

And for 9-year-old Shanagani, she was ready to head straight into a fully in-person fourth grade.

“Finally, I’m so happy, couldn’t wait no more”

Shanagani, 9. Photo: Mateo Ruiz Gonzalez for BK Reader.
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