It couldn’t be an ordinary first day back to school at West County High School in Sebastopol, on Thursday, Aug. 12. Teenagers of the new consolidated school milled about and threw their arms around friends, though a staff person offered blue surgical masks as they headed to the outdoor stadium for a rally.

Cars crawled along the drop-off lane. According to Superintendent Toni Beal, roughly 1,600 are currently enrolled at West County High, where former Analy and El Molino students will now study side by side. Laguna High School students are starting the year at the former El Molino High School campus in Forestville.

The students, some of who headed into distance learning from eighth grade the spring of 2020 to arrive this August as sophomores, had never stepped foot on the high school campus. It’s been a year and a half spent largely in isolation, save for students returning to hybrid classes this past spring.

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A school staff person offered masks to students on their way to the rally at the football field Thursday morning, Aug. 12, 2021 for the first day of school at West County High School, combining Analy and El Molino high schools onto Analy’s campus in Sebastopol.

Kaylie Nuth is one such 10th grader who hadn’t had the in-person high school experience until now.

“It’s good to meet new people,” she said, though she said she does not look forward to getting lost on campus. “I feel like there’s a lot of people, and trying to walk and get places, it’s kind of stressful,” Nuth said.  Nuth said her first day was going well, though.

Seniors Kylie Mattos and Aidan Stanley sat on a bench nearby, without a first period class scheduled to attend that day.

“I’m feeling pretty excited to be back in person, but I think I benefited a lot from distance learning and online learning,” Mattos said.

She continued, “I just felt like I did school a lot better and I got better grades,” sharing that she didn’t think she would do as well starting classes in-person, even though she looked forward to it. “I got to work on my own schedule, I got more sleep being at home and I felt a lot more comfortable being in my own room doing all my work.”

Stanley said, “I definitely think there’s better learning experiences to be actually at school, but the main thing I’m thinking about is the whole reason we got out of school is because we started wearing masks. And we have to wear them again, so why don’t we just keep with the program?”

He voiced his wish that a hybrid model remained an option instead of a total switch to full-time in-person learning.

Campus supervisor David Cary observed, “It’s busy and a little bit busier than what a normal school year would be, but we planned a lot to handle the increased number of students on campus and we’ve got a lot more teachers. It’s a little bit more crowded, but so far I’d say things are going pretty well.”

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Staff Writer

Camille graduated from Santa Rosa Junior College and Sacramento State, studying sociology and journalism. While jargon sometimes moves her to tears, she strives to “make it make sense” so people can get informed and get engaged.

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