HANFORD, Calif. (KFSN) -- Hanford Elementary School District welcomed back nearly 6,000 students on Tuesday.
Parents made sure to take "Back to School" photos as they dropped their children off at Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School.
By 8 am, students filed into their classrooms ready to start a new school year.
Every "First Day of School" is exciting, but this year, it's extra special.
"During the pandemic, it has been a little bit tough, but these challenges, they pulled through. So now hopefully, we get a normal year," said John Porras, a third-grade teacher.
While the safety and health of students and staff remain priorities, there are fewer COVID restrictions this year.
Masks are not required, but they are recommended. In addition, desks in classrooms can be seen closer than in years past.
According to school leaders, there are going to be more opportunities for interaction between students and teachers, as well as other classmates.
"Students are going to be eating lunch together. No more having to worry about only having three kids at this table. We'll be together," said learning director Kelly Bekedam.
Mr. Porras is looking forward to field trips, school assemblies and science presentations with his third graders.
"I think that'll be great because a lot of these students were not exposed to it being in kindergarten when we shut down," he said.
The school district is also focusing on meeting the social-emotional needs of students, which increased throughout the pandemic.
Inside a first-grade class, a poster of "regulation zones" is hanging on the wall. Students will learn how to identify what emotions they're feeling, and how to work through them.
"This gives them a tool in their toolbox that they can pull out," Bekedam explained. "They can say 'I'm mad. What do I do when I'm mad?' In a classroom, there might be a 'cool down' area. They can take that deep breath and let it out."
While district leaders are hoping for a school year similar to the ones before the pandemic, they know COVID is still around.
"We've learned a tremendous amount over that period of time," said Superintendent Joy Gabler. "As a group, we're ready to adjust and pivot based on the guidance and conditions and directions from our local public health department."
Families are encouraged to have their students learn in person, but an independent study option is available for anyone who is uncomfortable with their child being in the classroom.