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8th grader hadn't been in the school building since he was a 6th grader

Judah Whaley went all-virtual midway through 6th grade. He's now starting 8th grade, in-person for the first time in more than 500 days.

CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — Thirteen-year-old Judah Whaley returned to the classroom for in-person instruction for the first time in more than 500 days because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Mixed emotions, I'm nervous, very excited," he said as he packed his backpack for his first day of 8th grade. "I know a lot of stuff is going to be different.”

Whaley went all-virtual midway through 6th grade. He said it's a strange feeling to be returning after so much time away.

“I am excited to see friends because I haven't seen them since we were like real small, you know," he said. "I know they're going to be they're going to be still them, but they're going to be different older people.”

Despite those first-day jitters, it's a day he'd been eagerly awaiting.

"Being a physical 8th grader is probably what I'm probably nervous about the most,"  he said. "But I'm going to like it. I'm looking forward to us being there and living in the moment of 8th grade, you know, not experiencing my 8th-grade year through zoom."

"Going into the building, I can actually interact. And I know the teachers will be relieved, too.”

Whaley said he knows a lot could change. He attends MD Roberts School of the Arts in Clayton County. Right now, they’re still in person. But Kendrick Middle, just a few miles down the street, recently announced they’re going back to virtual for at least two weeks amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

While Whaley admitted that reality makes him nervous, he said he trusts the adults in his life.

“My parents and my teachers and officials that are over there try to keep us safe and want to keep us safe," he said. "I'm also glad that I am aware of how to handle myself through this Covid state.”

For now, it’s back to school, and day by day.

“I’m excited for the school year and want to learn, I want to get smarter, more intelligent, you know, be alive," Whaley said.

Editor's Note: The Learning Curve is an ongoing series on 11Alive and 11Alive.com that will follow the stories of local students as they navigate this unprecedented school year.