By Howard Monroe

CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) — Students in Camden went back to the classrooms Tuesday for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began.

“We’re ready, we’re here to learn,” senior Lewis Echevarria said. “Have to move forward, we’re excited.”

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Students are showing optimism after a challenging time during the pandemic.

“I’m looking forward to meeting all my friends, seeing all my teachers after almost two years of being fully remote,” Echevarria said.

This is the first time students have been in a classroom since March 2020, when the pandemic forced schools to close.

“My kids had a hard time,” parent Maria Rosas said. “I didn’t realize how much they needed to be in school because it’s so much different. I don’t think my kids got very far even though I was there helping them.”

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The 1,200 students are going into a brand new environment. The 270,000-square-foot Camden High campus houses four high schools: The Camden High, Brimm Medical Arts, Creative Arts, and Big Picture Learning Academies.

The state spent over $130 million to build it.

“When you see kids going back to school it feels normal,” Mayor Vic Carstarphen said. “It makes everything start to feel normal again.”

As for the pandemic, teachers are mandated by the state to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing. Students will also be tested on a regular basis.

Masks are also required for everyone regardless of their vaccination status and if an outbreak occurs there’s also the possibility of going back to virtual learning.

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“But, at this time, all of our efforts are focused on strong, positive and supportive instruction especially for students who’ve missed so much over the pandemic,” Camden Schools Superintended Katrina McCombs said.