By Natasha Brown

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Philadelphia School District brought more students back to classrooms Monday. It’s part of the third and final phase of hybrid learning.

“I’m saying it’s about time. We miss our kids, we miss our families,” SLA Beeber Leadership Academy Principal Christopher Johnson said.

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With just about a month left in the school year, Johnson finally got to see the smiling faces of his students.

“The kids came in, they were super excited. Parents were great, they were excited also,” Johnson said.

Beeber was just one of many schools throughout the district welcoming back students in the third and final phase of hybrid learning for the School District of Philadelphia.

Sixth through ninth-grade students, and students in grades 10-12 with special needs began two days a week of hybrid learning on Monday.

For many, it’s the first glimpse inside a classroom in a year-and-a-half since the pandemic began.

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For Beeber, the students are in a Monday and Tuesday cohort with about 40 kids returning Monday and more expected on Tuesday.

When asked why bringing the kids back with what amounts to about 10 days of in-person learning…

“I didn’t get it at first, I’ll be honest, but then when I saw the kids’ faces light up when they walked inside the building like wow, that’s when I got it. I was like, ‘You know what, Chris? You were wrong. They ought to be back now,'” Johnson said.

School officials say many students have done well in a virtual learning setting but nothing can replace the in-person classroom experience.

“I think the human interaction is key. They get to roam around a place that’s not their home. They’ve been cooped up in the house for a year-and-a-half. This just gives them another place,” Johnson said.

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School district officials say they’re also using these hybrid settings to better prepare them for a safe and full reopening in the fall.