CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago Public Schools are preparing to welcome students back Monday morning in a new schedule that will begin the school year three weeks earlier than usual.
While there are concerns about COVID-19 and safety, teachers at one Southwest Side school are excited to welcome the students back. Teachers and the principal at Gage Park High School said they are ready and they are hoping the students are too.
Getting bulletin boards ready for the first day of school is a staple for teachers. It's their window of opportunity to make students feel welcome for the start of the new school year.
"We're bringing back the joy of school with the sports, extracurricular activities, and of course, the rigor that they need so that they can be successful. So our intention of being joyful. That is what makes us ready," said Principal Tamika Ball.
CPS will not require masking, but is highly recommending it for unvaccinated students. Ball said her school survived remote learning during the pandemic, but she hopes to keep hallways and classrooms full this year.
"To get back to some normalcy, I think everyone is excited about that and so I don't think that we will have to revisit that, hopefully we won't have to shut down again, but if so we'll all be prepared," Ball said.
School safety is also a big concern, but CPS is adding cameras and security technology. They are also prepared for students who've fallen behind educationally.
"We have diagnostics that we would all have our schools use, and so we know where the needs are for children. And we have now intervention teachers in every single school," said CPS CEO Pedro Martinez.
Sharonda Cook was unpacking new books for her students, hoping this year is an exciting new chapter for them.
"We're trying to really, you know, bring students back into the classroom on our on a good note because they haven't had it for the last, you know, two years. So, I think having something new, it excites me as an educator and I hope that that translates to the students as well," Cook said.
The three-week early start may be a little bit of an adjustment for students, but it also means they start their summer vacation the first week of June, giving them something to look forward to.
WATCH: ABC7, local Disney business units donate school supplies to Chicago kids
Riley Piere, 12, said she's trying to start the school year off right.
"I'm kind of excited," she said. "I wouldn't say very much excited because I don't want to wake up at six to get ready."
With her nana's help, the grade-schooler is spending her last few homework-free days getting ready to head back to class.
"I'm very excited about them going back to school," said Alaissa Collins, Riley's grandmother. "I think education is so important."
The family is among the throngs of students snapping up school uniforms and supplies for the start of the fall session which, for many, begins Monday.
Zemsky's on Archer was packed with price-conscious parents.
"The sales tax holiday really helped with helping the customers get over that hump of the shear cost of back to school," said owners Judy and Sam Greenberg.
Rachel Murray is shopping for her nephew.
"Senior year, pivotal year," she said. "Yeah, I want him to look good."
Meanwhile, 100 kids at the Union League Boys and Girls Club got an unexpected surprise.
"A lot of our employees they want to help just need a little direction," said ABC7 Community Affairs VP Diana Palomar. "This was perfect."
They gifted of Disney-themed book bags and school supplies.
Cari, 7, got everything she wanted.
"I got a blue pencil. I got a calculator," she said.
The donation was made by several Chicago-based Walt Disney Company business units, including ABC7.
The kids received the school supplies after a surprise breakfast with some of the Navy Blue Angels flight team in town for this weekend's air and water show.
"It means the world to us and to our club kids," said Union League Boys and Girls Club Senior Club Director Jeremy Murphy.
Disney is the parent company of ABC7 Chicago.