A photo of the school's lunchroom shows tables, many of them mostly empty

PHOTO ESSAY: Return to In-Person Learning Brings Mixed Reactions From Kent-Meridian Students

Kent-Meridian High School students share their experience being back in person as the school year comes to a close.

by Marian Mohamed


At first, many Kent-Meridian High School students were anxious about returning to in-person learning. Now, they’ve come to terms with their new reality as the school year comes to a close. 

A poster titled "Mask Up Right" shows the right and wrong ways to mask by depicting demonstrations on the school's mascot
A poster of the Kent-Meridian High School mascot, a lion, showing students how to properly wear a mask. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

A sick-out protest conducted by the Kent-Meridian Civil Rights Group on January 29, 2022, was organized to challenge the lack of COVID-19 safety measures set in place. A social media post with listed demands circulated among KM students and families on Instagram. What was supposed to be a united student body that would push for necessary safety measures didn’t meet the expectations of the Civil Rights Group. 

Two students in the process of making Italian sodas for other students
Shogofa Ahmadi (12th) and Raihana Ahmadi (10th) create Italian sodas for students during lunchtime from their booth in the student store. Ahmadi doesn’t feel the need to mask up, as Kent-Meridian High School no longer requires staff or students to wear masks. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

“We had to act fast,” said Layla Yared, a senior and co-president of the KM Civil Rights Group. “We did have to miss out on the fact that we didn’t have a lot of students; it was for the safety of the students.” 

A Kent-Meridian student stands in the hallway facing the camera and smiling
Layla Yared, a senior and co-president of the Kent-Meridian Civil Rights Group, poses for a portrait. Yared’s push for change within Kent-Meridian and even in the Kent school district is to create a better environment for students. “I feel like we did have that push, of like, we want things to be better,” said Yared. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

Abby Sanchez was unable to participate in the sick-out because final exams landed on the same day as the sick-out. 

A group of students around a table make necklaces together from a kit placed on the table between them
Abby Sanchez, a Kent-Meridian student, takes part in making necklaces with other KM students in the PAC during the self-care week. Sanchez struggled at trying to interact with students during remote learning and is glad to be on campus. “It’s weird to see people without their masks, but it feels good to be with people,” said Sanchez. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

“I agree with the protest but I think they picked the wrong day,” said Sanchez. 

Remote learning was difficult for Sanchez, as it created a barrier when socializing with her classmates, and she expressed her relief when Kent-Meridian announced it would be returning to in-person learning for the 2021–2022 school year. 

For students like Sione Cruz, a member of the KM Civil Rights Group, it’s become an obstacle to focus in class. 

A Kent-Meridian student stands in the hallway facing the camera and smiling
Sione Cruz, a freshman and member of the Kent-Meridian Civil Rights Group, poses for a portrait without his mask. Cruz has noticed that the Kent school district’s current approach to COVID-19 safety measures is a thing of the past. “They definitely treat COVID-19 like a past event. It should be in the present tense, and we’re still going through it,” said Cruz. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

“I’m used to reading people’s lips when they talk, and it’s been a real struggle for me, especially now,” said Cruz. 

Months after the protests, KM students have, in a way, accepted their environment. In multiple interview conversations, students have confirmed feeling safer in classrooms and interacting with each other, although there’s been an air of panic among students who’ve never had the high school experience. 

A group of students pose facing the camera and smiling
Hanniffer Nyamburg (ninth), Leila LaRosse (ninth), Shariah Bell (ninth), Naiya Ngua (ninth), and Dhurey Amin (ninth) pose for a portrait after leaving the student store with myriad treats. The group of friends all agree on feeling anxious about returning to campus because of expectations to interact in person and the unfamiliar methods of in-person learning. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

“When I found out that we were coming back, I was like, I’m not ready for this. I haven’t even had a middle school experience,” said Clair Eaton, a freshmen at Kent-Meridian. 

Eaton, who spent most of her seventh and eighth grade in remote learning, felt as though high school events, such as homecomings and football games, don’t live up to the expectations many students entering high school are told about. 

Two students stand in a classroom facing the camera and smiling for a portrait
Eunice Valencia and Riley Putzier, both seniors, pose for a portrait. They both expressed how unsafe they’ve felt the past couple of months and even believe there’s a possibility they might get infected with COVID-19. When it came to participating in the sick-out, it wasn’t an option for either of them. “It’s a lot of effort, and now, we’re starting to realize that we don’t have as much time as we did before,” said Valencia. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

To offer a space for students to de-stress and interact with other students, Kent-Meridian’s Leadership class hosted that exact space for students. The self-care week went from April 19 to April 22, 2022. Activities such as crafting necklaces and bracelets, making art, and even entering a raffle for a prize took place.

A group of students around a table make necklaces together from a kit placed on the table between them
Abby Sanchez, a Kent-Meridian student, takes part in making necklaces with other KM students in the PAC during the self-care week. Sanchez struggled at trying to interact with students during remote learning and is glad to be on campus. “It’s weird to see people without their masks, but it feels good to be with people,” said Sanchez. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

“It’s a safe space for people to interact, meet new people, and just a safe place for everyone,” said Layla Abdiali.

A student sits behind a table helping other students register for a raffle; a student on the opposite side of the table leans in to communicate with her, while other students stand behind her
Layla Abdiali, a junior and part of the Kent-Meridian Leadership class, helps other students to register for a raffle in the hopes they’d win a prize. Abdiali expressed her excitement in bringing self-care week to Kent-Meridian students. “People are really shy because of COVID-19, and they don’t really interact with anyone. That’s our biggest goal, is just a safe place for everyone,” said Abdiali. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

Marian Mohamed pledged her work to report the news of the underrepresented since entering the world of journalism. She’s worked with publications such as KUOW and the International Examiner while currently studying Journalism and Public Interest at the University of Washington.

📸 Featured Image: Out of the 2,000 students who attend Kent-Meridian High School, the lunchroom rarely shows that, with vacant spots at each table on April 29, 2022. (Photo: Marian Mohamed)

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