PAW PAW, Mich. — The pandemic has undoubtedly uprooted schools, lessons turned remote and children's interaction centered around a computer screen.
Two years later, schools have returned to in-person classes and students have adapted to a new normal.
Fox 17 looks inside a Van Buren County classroom and follows along with third-grader Jameson Stewart, who had his last typical school year in kindergarten.
It's the start of another school day for Jameson. He's a busy third grader getting his backpack tucked away, his lunchbox in hand, heading to his desk that's stocked with all the tools a kid needs to succeed.
Two years ago, school life for Jameson and his entire generation of students changed.
"We were just learning how to use computers. So, it was kind of hard because I wasn't as good with computers as I am right now," said Jameson. "It was kind of hard to stay focused. You know how younger siblings are; they're trying to distract you."
Anne Stewart, Jameson's Mom, remembers math over the kitchen table and the fatigue from her young boys continuously sitting on Zooms and Google Meets.
"I loved the extra time with him, it was good to have the extra time, but it was good when you could be just the parent and not the parent and the teacher as well. And of course, he missed the social component of being with his friends," said Stewart.
Stewart is happy to be back to the morning routine with the boys, helping them out of the car and with their coats. There's just one extra step now.
"Jameson likes to pick out a mask that matches his outfit," said Stewart.
Jameson and little brother Halen choose to wear masks at their mask optional Paw Paw Early and Later Elementaries.
"My marks went up because it was better in person," said Jameson.
Paw Paw Schools equipped kids with Chromebooks and hot spots to learn from home. Even with access to technology, many struggled to keep up.
"As a teacher, it's really you put more of a strain of trying to meet them where they are. I think it's regardless of the pandemic, but I think we've seen more of that the last couple of years than we ever have before," said third grade teacher Cheryl Anderson.
Inside Anderson's classroom, there's more hand sanitizer, more social distancing, but traditional learning is back. The new challenge for all teachers is in a new subject: mental health.
"Learning about other ideas that people have and how to work through those. And I find it important as their teacher to let them. We sometimes have discussions on that. I have kids that come in and say, 'Mrs. Anderson, I got my second shot today. How are you feeling? Good for you I'm so proud of you.' To really compliment them on those big thoughts, those big ideas that they, they're persevering through it," said Anderson.
Maybe the biggest takeaway of all: Kids have adapted better over the last few years better than we give them credit for.
"I'm like really it's been, it's really been like two and a half years like wow," said Jameson.
"I think this generation will be much more I hope they will be much more willing to give up smaller things for the greater good," said Anne Stewart.
Paw Paw Schools is running before- and after-school programs that help kids catch up if they've fallen behind. A benefit of the pandemic is access to technology for all students in the district and a better understanding of how to use it at a young age.