PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Spring break is already over, but for social studies teacher Jennifer Custis this week almost feels like the first day of school. Custis teaches 7th and 8th graders at Heard Elementary School in the Phoenix Elementary School District. She has spent days getting her room ready after a full year of remote learning.

"Today, getting our COVID-19 expectations put up, filling out the boards," Custis said. "Getting packets laid out. Doing a seating chart, so we limit the amount of students."

The district says about 58% of students are expected to return to in-person learning on Wednesday. The plan was to stick with virtual school the rest of the school year, but Governor Doug Ducey's recent executive order unexpectedly sped up the process. Still, though, district leaders are prepared to welcome families. There will be signs greeting kids on campus that will also serve as a reminder that masks must be worn at all times, and physical distancing will be enforced.

Linda Jeffries, a spokesperson for the district, says they are also trying to limit large groups of students gathering. The cafeteria at the school will be closed, and students will eat lunch at their desks.

"Students will be going directly to their classrooms, and then they'll remain with their cohorts," Jeffries said.

Custis will have up to 12 students in her room at a time. The biggest challenge so far? Balancing lessons in the classroom with the kids at home.

"Something we were on a call this morning hashing out for almost two hours was... how do we teach the expectations for how to be in school, with COVID right, while still engaging our online students?" she said.

The year has come with challenges and, at times, has been heartbreaking, Custis said, but her favorite thing about being a teacher is watching her students grow.

"Whether that's emotionally, socially, academically, it's amazing to see where a student was in August and then where a student was in May," she said. "Because even virtually they're growing, they're learning."

Parents do have the option to keep their kids at home. Read more about those options here.

 

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