SAVOY, Ill. (WCIA) – A return to school will feel a bit more normal than the last couple years for students as many kids in Champaign County pack their backpacks and head back to class.

Families and faculty are optimistic, but they’ve all got safety on their minds. Last fall, students had to pick up face masks with their school supplies. This year, masks are optional – and that’s not the only big change.

“I’m pretty excited, but a little nervous,” one fifth grader said.

It’s a familiar feeling this time of year. While many parents have been looking forward to a normal school year, some kids don’t know what what it feels like.

“When we first found out about it, all of us were sad. Our school shut down,” Raigan, a student at Carrie Busey Elementary School said.

Raigan was in kindergarten when the Covid-19 pandemic was first reported.

“It was really annoying when we had to wear masks. A lot of kids were complaining like, ‘when is Covid going to be over, how many years is it going to be over?’” she said.

Now, she’s starting third grade at Carrie Busey Elementary School.

“To get used to being in school for your first year, then having to be pulled back, it was an adjustment period but we got through it,” her father, Ryan Jones said.

School will soon feel more relaxed in Champaign County. The Illinois Board of Education recently adopted the CDC’s updated Covid-19 guidelines. While some teachers and parents say they’re relieved, they also worry things could change again.

“I think we’re all a little nervous. We know that things can change on a dime but we are also ready and we know that we’ve been able to respond accordingly in the past,” first grade teacher Noelle Stinson said.

Principal Craig Keer feels ready too.

“It’s wonderful to have the option for students and staff to wear masks and just to get back to normal and do the things we were doing so well before Covid,” Keer said.

He said students can socialize together again. They no longer have to sit in pods, or small assigned groups.

“Especially at recess and lunch where they’re able to sit with all their classmates. So we think that’s going to help our SEL [social emotional learning] progress and that will in turn help our academic growth,” he said.

Everyone is heading back to school with hope.

“You just hope that they get through everything safe, all the kids have fun and their first day is something memorable for all of them,” Jones said.

Keer said emotional health is a priority for the school, and the district has resources for anyone who is still struggling with pandemic-related stress. One program called “Care Solace” connects families with professionals who can help.