If Monday’s weather on the first day of school was any indicator, the 2021-22 academic year at Evanston Township High School will be sunny and pleasant.

Of course, COVID-19 is again on the rise. There is a “new normal” at school, with everyone required to wear masks. And there is also a big change in how classes are held. Block scheduling means longer class time.

But as junior Ismael Soto said Monday about school in person, “I’m excited. I missed it.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced ETHS onto remote learning from mid-March 2020 through April of this year, when some, but not all students returned part time under a hybrid system.

But now, all 3,700 students are back. There was even an outdoor lunch period, so they could spend time in the sunshine with their friends.

Philip Brannon, a junior, said he was “happy” to be back. “I learn better” in person, Brandon explained.

Colin Benson, another junior, also said he missed in-person school. “I definitely prefer that over e-learning,” he said.

ETHS is encouraging all students and staff who have not yet been vaccinated to get their COVID-19 shots. The school’s online COVID dashboard shows 2,702 students self-reporting as fully vaccinated, which works out to 73% (based on last year’s total enrollment).

COVID vaccination is not required for ETHS students, but vaccination status must be reported to help with contact tracing should there be a virus outbreak. Anyone not reporting will be considered unvaccinated.

The student vaccination rate is similar to all Evanstonians age 12 and over … 79% according to the City. Evanston has one of the highest vaccination rates in the state.

While “mask politics” have been a controversy in some states, the Illinois mask requirement does not seem to be much of an issue here.

11th grader Jacob Bartres called masks “annoying but necessary,” a worthwhile tradeoff because “I think it’s good that we’re in person.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.