HARTFORD, Conn (WTNH) — Students in Hartford marked the first day of the 2022-23 school year on Monday.

A.J. Johnson and the members of Calling all Brothers provided the energy at Rawson Elementary.

“We know they come and they don’t know what is going to happen,” Johnson, the vice chair of Hartford’s Board of Education said. “They don’t know what their friends are going to be. Well, listen, we’re going to have a group of friends out here for them as soon as they get off the bus, as soon as they get out of their cars. We’re here to encourage them.”

At the University High School of Science and Engineering, the energy came from the batteries in the robotics team’s latest creation.

It’s the closest to a “normal” back-to-school season most students have seen in three years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and school leaders are prioritizing getting students back in the classroom.

“We’re looking forward to getting back to some of our structures and routines and beginning to build those relationships,” Hartford Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said.

Even the most serious students feel relieved to be back under normal circumstances.

“It feels really good. I can be more comfortable taking more difficult classes without worrying about COVID,” said Emmet Spaeth, a sophomore at the University High School of Science and Engineering.

School officials wanted to set a new tone this year because chronic absenteeism skyrocketed during the pandemic. During the 2020-21 school year, it nearly doubled.

“It’s making sure the students come and stay in school every single day,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “That is one thing that was impacted, exacerbated by the pandemic.”

It’s also important to make the teachers feel welcome. Hartford needs them to stay because right now there are 95 teacher vacancies across the Capital City.

“We have 39 schools, so each school has about two vacancies,” the superintendent said. “And while we have some substitutes to cover those classrooms, that is not what is best for students.”

What is best for students is consistency, and that is what every educator is hoping for this year.