Maija Ahleman has not had a “normal” first day of school in two years.

The last time she entered a building for a first day of classes was as a seventh grader at Haven Middle School in August, 2019.

After COVID-19 forced schools into remote learning in March 2020, Maija took the remainder of seventh grade and all of eighth grade on her computer at home.

She chose not to do hybrid school at Haven, part-remote and part-in person, when that became an option in February, staying online at her house.

“She was doing fine with remote learning,” says her father Thomas. Plus, some of the hybrid classes were on Zoom anyway, even if the kids were in classrooms.

But this morning, along with her father, Maija was at Evanston Township High School for freshman orientation. Classes begin Aug. 16. Half of the approximately 1,000 freshmen have orientation today, the rest tomorrow.

“Everyone’s going to be really excited to see each other,” says the 13-year old high schooler.

Of course, the “normal” school year 2021-22 will be a new normal. With the Delta variant of COVID on the increase, ETHS students and staff will all have to wear masks.

“I’m glad we have to,” says Maija, who has been vaccinated against the virus.

“I think they’ve done a good job and everyone is prepared and comfortable,” she adds.

Thomas says the Ahleman family has a “unique perspective” on COVID-19, because his wife is a pediatrician. While the Delta variant is picking up, Ahleman says “we have good information,” and everyone involved with ETHS is “taking it seriously.”

“It’s great that the kids are getting back to their education,” he says.

Maija admits she’s a bit “nervous about getting lost” at ETHS, which has more students in her freshman class than in all three grades at Haven.

But still, she’s looking forward to her very first high school course, an elective called music tech (electronic music).

Plus, her friends will be able to give in-person wishes in school rather than Zoom greetings when Maija turns 14 later this month.

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