Anita Bucio.

Anita Bucio looked more like an astronaut or a member of a hazmat crew than the English teacher she really is, as she and 300 other educators at Evanston Township High School geared up with personal protective equipment for the first day of in-person classes in 14 months.

PPE was required for all teachers, staff and students as ETHS began its hybrid learning program today. Slightly less than half of the school’s 3,700 students opted for the hybrid model, with some in-person classes and some classes online. The rest of the students chose to stay fully remote.

All of ETHS was on remote learning since the coronavirus pandemic ended in-person school in March 2020. COVID is still a major issue, but the District 202 school board and administration felt it was safe enough to reopen as long as health and safety measures were implemented.

Students Shoyah Robinson and Lia Sheahan.

Seniors Shoyah Robinson and Lia Sheahan were among those who came back today. Robinson said the building felt “very empty,” as there were only five or six students in her class. Normal would be 25 to 30.

One of Sheahan’s classes was even emptier. “It was just me, one other kid, and the teacher,” she said. The rest of the class was online. “It was really awkward,” she added.

“The teacher was really nervous,” Sheahan said. “It was like the first day of school, but everything’s different.” The teachers are “just as confused as we are,” she said.

One of the differences was orchestra. Sheahan, who plays the cello, said there were just 7 or 8 student musicians on hand this morning, instead of the usual 50. “It was like a chamber group,” she said.

Both students said they were happy to be back, because they missed so many experiences which should have been part of their final ETHS year. “For me as a senior, this is my last chance to be at the school,” Robinson said.

Crossing guard Monica Dyer.

Also happy to be back, Monica Dyer. Outfitted in a bright yellow jacket and holding up a stop sign paddle, Dyer was the crossing guard in front of ETHS.

As a supervisor for the Andy Frain company which provides the guards, Dyer was not furloughed while ETHS was closed. She was able to keep the crossings safe in front of local parochial schools, which did not shut down.

But Dyer said about 45 of her colleagues were out of work from the time schools went fully remote in March of last year until District 65 elementary and middle schools returned in-person in February.

Students waiting to enter the school.

Robinson and Sheahan admit they both have a case of “senioritis,” so they’re not overly concerned about classroom academics for the next month. They’re both looking ahead to graduation, and to college.

But at least they will both be able to look back at Evanston Township High School and say they finally got inside during what will certainly be a year no one will forget.

As Robinson put it, “I’m here for the memories.”

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

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