After 15 months of lackluster zoom replacements, the arts, extracurricular activities, and sports will fully return to campus across the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.
No, they won’t look exactly the same – think of aerosol-blocking covers on brass instruments, soccer games with masks, and outdoor orchestral practice.
But yes, they will all be returning, full time, in person, with plans for competitions, concerts, and shows to go as normal as possible.
This full return to activity may seem daunting to some students, but Santa Monica High School Activities Director Sarah Paulis believes this direct entry approach will be very beneficial for students.
“Clubs, activities and sports will be vital this year because we missed those experiences and students really strive to feel heard, valued and connected to people,” Paulis said. “I think it is directly related to their motivation and their overall mental health.”
During the final year of school, Paulis helped students find their way around Samohi’s 180 different virtual clubs. While certain groups like the Mental Health Advocacy Club and Community Connects Club were very active and popular during the pandemic, many groups found it difficult to remotely reproduce their group activities.
Fortunately, the garden club will have access to the Samohi Garden again this fall, the robot club will be able to work and compete together, and the performing arts groups will be able to host shows in person.
One of the most anticipated outcomes on campus is that of SMMUSD’s acclaimed music program, which has faced particularly difficult obstacles in attempting to replicate classes online.
“We really had to change our curriculum because you can’t teach an ensemble class if only one student can unmute at a time,” said Samohi Orchestra Director Jason Aiello. “All music teachers had to make an effort to keep the students going and do our best to motivate the students to keep going.”
On Samohi, all seven orchestras play together again personally, with all groups rehearsing outside with wind instruments. Wind instruments are fitted with bell covers to prevent the spread of aerosols from blowing in by students who wear special masks with a slit to play their instrument.
Although Aiello admits that there will be acoustic and ecological challenges with these safety measures, he is very pleased that the students are playing together again in person.
“We have to work on it and adjust to it, but if it means that the students can play together, then of course I’m for it,” said Aiello. “If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how important the arts are in education as they really connect students with one another and give them a way to express their emotions.”
Exercise programs are also resuming across the district, with students training together and competing against different schools. The teams often have Covid test protocols and are required to wear masks with the exception of water sports.