Parking was difficult to find Monday morning at Porterville College as hundreds of students flocked back to the campus for the first time in more than a year.

“We are super excited to be back in person for the fall semester,” said PC President Claudia Habib. “Sixty percent of classes are offered in person and 40 percent online but the campus is open for all support services.”

And as of Monday morning, PC had 3,485 students registered, Habib said.

“We continue to offer a hybrid model of online classes and online support services for those who want it,” Habib said. “It's flexible and we have options for everybody.”

But after being away for a year and a half, and with students returning in person, the college is ready for them.

“We prepared for their return. No. 1, we addressed health and safety,” Habib said and listed some of the changes at Porterville College.

Habib listed the placement of PPE — personal protective equipment — acrylic barriers, sanitation of the entire campus, the placement of sanitation stations and upgrading the HVAC system with a bio-air purifier.

“First health and safety. Second, we prepared with our students in mind, upgrading spaces so they can spend more time on campus,” Habib said.

Enjoyable seating areas with charging stations, a modernized cafeteria, and outdoor WIFI with additional outdoor seating were among the student comfort upgrades, said Habib.

“It feels weird to be back. But good,” said Hannah Avitia, a returning science student looking for textbooks in the book store. “I did Zoom but it's my first time coming back.”

Because of the pandemic, it's Avitia's third year at Porterville College, she said.

Itzia Ramos and Maria Diaz also browsed through textbooks at the Porterville College Bookstore, while a few others could be seen looking through the snacks, drinks, PC clothing attire, electronics, and numerous other school essentials needed for school.

“Today is our first foot-traffic day,” said store manager Beatrice Arellano. “It's been really smooth. No problems at all. We're happy students are back on campus face to face.”

The web order was done Sunday night, she said, adding they're shipping numerous packages today. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but the store will stay open as long as students are there, Monday through Friday, said Arellano.

Outside of the bookstore, enjoying some of the seating in the Student Union eating area was a group of freshman basketball players who talked and laughed at one table, some of them snacking on Fruit Loops cereal. The team members said they liked the campus and were excited about their first year at PC and looking forward to basketball season.

In one of the adjacent meeting rooms, Dr. Kunal Sukhija, physician of staff/director of Kaweah Health Street Medicine and Medical Society of Tulare/Kings County, talked to a group of nursing students, residents and physicians about administering vaccines to Porterville College students.

“It's a way to teach residents and students some hands-on medicine,” said Joey Howell, executive assistant, Medical Society of Tulare/Kings County. “He's going over the procedures of what to do and what to expect.”

And out on the quad, numerous students were expected to visit the Welcome area between classes.

“It's Welcome Week. We have different departments out here welcoming our students,” said Elizabeth Buchanan, Language Arts Chair who was there talking to students about the Learning Resource Center.

“We are trying to be accessible to anyone coming through with questions on anything as we make them aware of other groups. Many students are not aware we have a Student Senate.”

It was also the perfect time to introduce incoming students to student clubs, said Thad Russel, V.P. of Instruction.

Biology instructor Denise Jackson said she was new to Porterville and it was her first semester at the college.

“I thought it would be cool to be here and welcome students,” said Jackson said. “So I grabbed a few things. I'm a biology instructor.”

Her National Science Department table had a few unusual items, including porcupine poop, a huge bullfrog tadpole, a clam with calcite, a DNA molecule structure and a model of a human skull.

Dean of Instruction, and dean over the learning center and the library, Michelle Miller-Galez was on hand to welcome students and available to talk about the new center at the Stem and Literacy Center and the Entrepreneur-idea lab.

“We've been working hard all summer gearing up for the start of fall,” said Primavera Arvizu, vice president of student services.

Arvizu said they offer support and counseling, technology, financial aid and making sure students have information to whatever they need.

Friends Benjamin Valencia-Andrade, Miguel Ruiz, Jonathan Carrillo and Marco Vilog, walked around together from booth to booth, getting information, asking questions and picking up free items.

“We're friends – we all come from the same school,” Vilog said. “It's our first year. We're all excited.”

Nearby Hitz104.9 played music, and frequent announcements reminding students to get their vaccines.

“I just hope they learn something about Porterville College that works for them that they didn't know before they showed up,” Russel said.

And as some students left the campus, others could be seen arriving.

Parking permits aren't necessary for the first two weeks of school, said Nicholas Britt, Title 5 Program Tech, who fielded students' questions and directing them to various sites as he stood near a large sign reading 'Welcome Back Pirates.'

All students and staff returning to campus will have to show proof of vaccination by November 1 and all students returning to in-person instruction need to complete a daily health screening.

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