King City High students walk to their classes after the mid-day lunch break April 30. With many students returning to in-person instruction, the campus has the bustling atmosphere of pre-pandemic times. (Sean Roney/Staff)

KING CITY — Board members for South Monterey County Joint Union High School District recently toured King City High School to get an idea of what things looked like with in-person instruction having become a reality at the campus. 

“We are thrilled to have students back,” said Janet Matos, principal at KCHS. “We are happy to see their smiles when they come to school and we all missed it.”

The school had previously been used for small cohort group instruction, but the option to return has meant 40% of the students have been back in their classroom environments for three weeks.

“It feels good to be back on campus,” said student Brooke Tidwell. “Looking at a computer screen all day long can get really draining and your motivation level goes down.”

Brenna Owens, another student who spoke to board members during the April 30 tour, added, “It feels good to have some kind of normalcy before leaving to college. This week is our third week back at school. It feels like a new year even though it’s supposed to be the end of the year.”

Student leaders Sarah Brewen (from left), Brooke Tidwell and Brenna Owens speak to board members about their experiences returning to in-person instruction after a year as students of virtual education. (Sean Roney/Staff)

Both Tidwell and Owens said their home environments had distractions that made it difficult to focus on education, from siblings, to pets, to parent home business operations. They also reflected on the difficulty of distance learning in the past year.

“It was hard to separate school and our social life because we couldn’t meet with friends,” Owens said.

Tidwell agreed, adding, “I feel like we took a lot of things for granted and now we can really appreciate what we have.”

Board members walked around to different rooms to see the hybrid classrooms with in-person instruction having been reintroduced to the campus, but not fully embraced by students or families. 

The result was a majority of students still attending classes through virtual means. 

Spanish teacher Adan Cruz teaches in-person students at the same time as those attending class virtually in a hybrid lesson at King City High School on April 30. (Sean Roney/Staff)

Teachers would speak to a room of socially distanced students, but also talk toward cameras on laptops at the same time, checking both the screen and the present faces for attentiveness, questions or input during the lessons.

“I was not hired to run a school without students, so it is nice to get back to normalcy, back to what all educators were meant to do, which is educate students in person,” Matos said.

She added that administration and teachers would continue to offer support to students and build relationships with the return of students, offering the ability to guide them with a human aspect that had been missing with fully virtual learning.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.