Return: Students across Santa Monica have returned to in-class activities in recent weeks. Brennon Dixson

Local students are back on campus for the second week of full-time, in-class learning, and educators said Tuesday they are ecstatic to continue welcoming Santa Monica scholars back to school in the coming weeks.

After months of distance learning via Zoom, the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District welcomed preschoolers, high-schoolers and everybody in between back to campus, where district officials have been hard at work for months ensuring students can return safely.

An option to remain in distance learning-only is still available for families, but schools like John Adams Middle School have seen a significant portion of students return this week.

It was only a short time ago that district leaders thought it would be impossible for a full return this year, but decreased social-distancing requirements and a few changes to campuses have things going smoothly, Principal Steve Richardson said Tuesday.

“We’re in week two and we have about 750 kids coming every day, which is over 80% of our population. It seems to be growing as we go and it’s been really positive,” Richardson said, thanking all of the school’s staff for their hard work in making a return possible. “The parents have been great too in engaging in that social contract of, ‘Okay… if my kids aren’t themselves or aren’t feeling well, then I’m not sending them in and I’m going to inform the school.’ Parents have been fantastic about that, which is key because if that’s not happening then the whole thing doesn’t work. We’re going to have a case; it’s going to spread, and we could possibly get shut down. But everyone’s doing their part and our process is going quite well.”

Similar to schools like Samohi, students at JAMS must complete a screening before they enter campus. Every grade level has also been assigned a specific gate and time to enter through.

“Most of them pre-screen with an app we have, and if they show a green screen then we take their temperature and we send them to their first class. If they don’t (pre-screen), we ask them the screening questions and we take their temp. They typically have about a half-hour to come in so they’re staggered and it’s actually worked out really well. We thought entering was going to be one of the hardest parts, but it went smoothly.”

Another challenging task, according to Richardson, is preventing the school’s social butterflies from mingling.

“They’re middle schoolers, they want to be near each other, and they don’t know what six feet is all the time, but they do know what mask-wearing is,” he said. “They’ve also been hand washing like crazy, and it’s been really positive in that sense, so we feel really good. It couldn’t have gone any better than it’s gone for us.”

Board President Jon Kean, who was on-hand Tuesday for a tour of the middle-school campus, said this is the beginning of the road back to normalcy.

“This is that first step in us coming back and making these kids students again,” Kean said, stating one of the great things about bringing the kids back now is it’s a reintroduction to being students. “They’re learning, they’re remembering what it’s like to be in a classroom, they’re remembering what it’s like to work with teachers and their fellow students.”

“It’s really interesting to watch and you’re really seeing a blend. It’s unique and it’s different from anything you’ve ever seen in a classroom before, but, again, it’s to get us back to the books and in school regularly. It’s like a reintroduction because there are only a couple weeks of school left, so I view this as a bridge to the fall when things are normal,” Kean added. “It’s just so heartwarming to see kids coming back into school because this is where they belong and this is what they need. It’s just great seeing them here, so thank you to our staff, thank you to our teachers, thank you to everybody.”

Brennon@smdp.com