But as they started the third week of their new school year, the 6- and 7-year-olds, all masked, were showing every sign of heeding their teacher’s insistence on paying attention. That morning, they had lined up neatly in the playground before the bell rang. Now, they listened attentively to a lesson on rhyming words, unconcerned by their now-familiar masks, which are no longer required by the Philadelphia school district, but encouraged here.

Ms. Bradshaw-Turner and her two assistants said this school year has started more positively than the last, when some students struggled to shift from all-online learning to in-person classes.

“When we were online, we had to depend on the parents a lot to make sure the kids were sitting down and paying attention,” she said. “When you’re online, it’s hard to focus on the computer all day. In person, you get a lot more from children, and you can help their needs more.”

Here in Room 101, the children seem as cheerful as their bright-colored surrounds, practicing addition at small clusters of desks. A sign reminds students to “always be nice and kind to each other.”

Jacob O’Brien, 6, said school was “awesome,” especially because of reading. His favorite book was “E.T.” which he said was about an alien whose spaceship left him on earth. Jacob said he didn’t mind wearing a mask in school even though it’s “the only place” where he wears one. — Jon Hurdle

More than a hundred kids are clustered around a boy standing on a table in the sunny quad during “nutrition,” the daily midmorning snack break. He’s playing hip-hop from a portable speaker, bouncing to the beat and holding a sign with glittery gold letters, asking a girl to be his date to the homecoming dance.

Looking on, Principal Tom Houts smiles. “This wouldn’t have happened last year,” he says.

In August 2021, the 4,000-plus students at this public high school 14 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles returned to school under a strict mask mandate. Hundreds of students were sent home for being exposed to Covid-19, and as a result, Mr. Houts says, kids kept a healthy distance from each other.

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