After 15 months of lackluster Zoom substitutions, the arts, extracurriculars activities and sports will be making a full return to campuses across the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

No they won’t look exactly the same — think aerosol blocking covers on brass instruments, soccer matches with masks and outdoor orchestra practices.

But, yes they will all be returning, fulltime, in-person, with plans for competitions, concerts and shows to proceed as normally as possible.

For some students this full-fledged return of activities appears daunting, but Santa Monica High School Activities Director Sarah Paulis believes this dive-right-in approach will be highly beneficial for students.

“Clubs, activities and sports are going to be crucial this year because we’ve missed out on those experiences and students are really craving to feel heard and valued and connect with people,” said Paulis. “I think that it has a direct correlation to their motivation and mental health overall.”

Last school year Paulis helped students navigate the 180 different virtual clubs on offer at Samohi. 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 challenging to replicate their group activities remotely.

Fortunately, this fall the gardening club will regain access to the Samohi garden, the robotics club will be able to work and compete together, and the performing arts groups will be able to put on shows in person.

One of the most highly anticipated returns to campus is that of SMMUSD’s acclaimed music program, which faced especially challenging barriers in trying to replicate classes online.

“We really had to change our curriculum as you can’t teach an ensemble class when only one student can unmute at a time,” said Samohi Orchestra Director Jason Aiello. “All of the music teachers had to pivot to keeping students going and try our best to motivate students to continue.”

At Samohi all seven orchestras will be playing together again in person, although any groups featuring wind instruments will be rehearsing outside. Wind instruments will be outfitted with bell covers to prevent the spread of aerosols from students blowing into them, who will be wearing specialized masks with a slit for playing their instrument.

Although Aiello acknowledges that there will be acoustic and environmental challenges with these safety measures, he is extremely excited to have students playing together in person again.

“We’ll have to work on it and adjust to it, but if it means students being able to play together, then I’m obviously all for it,” said Aiello. “If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s how essential the arts are in education, in that they really connect students to each other and give them an outlet to express their emotions.”

Sports programs will also be resuming District wide with students training together and competing against different schools. Teams have frequent Covid testing protocols, and with the exemption of aquatic sports, must wear masks.