SMALL TOWN DREAMS
Monterey County Agriculture and Rural Life Museum
A small museum in King City is recording the lives of teenagers during the pandemic.
By Marielle Argueza
On March 13, King City High School senior Dominic Conricode went to class, said hi to his friends and walked through the halls. It was like any other day at school. Except he and all the other students at school didn’t know it would be their last day at school, together, in-person. The day after, the campus closed due to Covid-19. He noted this in the speech he gave during virtual graduation, as the Class of 2020 valedictorian.
Jessica Potts, who coaches basketball at King City High and is also executive director of the Monterey County Agricultural and Rural Life Museum, was listening to Conricode give his speech. “It was kind of heartbreaking in many ways, watching what they lost,” she says.
Potts knew how much teenagers relied on the school as an outlet.“We’re a very small town, in a very rural part of the county. In many ways we are already isolated,” she says. “Those outlets—the friends, the clubs, the athletics—they’re gone for them.”
But with loss, Potts also saw opportunity. She decided to document the lives of teens during quarantine. “Part of our job at the museum is helping preserve history,” she says. “The other part is collecting it, and this is a historic moment.”
Potts knew Conricode, who’d been an intern at the museum. The speech
inspired her to reach out to him to see if he would be interested in help-
ing interview students, this time as a college intern. Conricode, who is now
a freshman at UC Berkeley studying computer science, agreed.
Sometimes by Zoom, sometimes in person (with masks and socially distanced), they started interviewing and recording high-schoolers.
Conricode suspected that students in King City would have a different—and in many ways—more intense experience during shelter-in-place compared to their peers elsewhere in the county. “There’s less to do,” he says. “In a city, it’s easier to escape to things or find outlets, but in a smaller town it’s hard to get the same stimulation.”
At the beginning of the year, he himself was looking to get a big city experience in Berkeley. Of course, that’s changed: “I’m mostly in my bedroom. I wake up and I’m on the computer most of the day.”
Potts says that’s the reality for most teenagers she’s interviewed. There’s a lot of screen time, and plenty of depression, anxiety and disappointment to go around. She knows one teen who ended having to leave her household to move in with her grandparents because too much time together strained relationships. She knows
another student who is struggling to
stay in school because of an unreliable
There are silver linings to be found too. Potts says increasingly, teenagers are beginning to feel like they know themselves better, because so much of high school life relies on socialization. “One girl said she felt like she was seeing herself for the first time, without her friends,” Potts says. “They’re beginning to see who they are as people, and who their ‘real friends’ are.”
Conricode has a similar experience. “It’s weird because I’m sad I missed all those traditions—prom, grad night, track and field—but most of my socialization was because of track and field
or study groups,” he says.
The museum team doesn’t know how exactly they’ll exhibit this history, but they are fundraising via Monterey County Gives! to support it. It might be in a special screening or multimedia format, but for now they’ll gather and learn. “Of course when this will be retold, it will be from the big picture: What did the government do about it and how it affected workers,” Potts says. “But it’s important to document things on a personal level and see how individuals fit into the history.”
As for Conricode, he’s learned a lot about himself and his town too. He’s been trying to take better care of himself, biking at 6:30am every day. “I get to see the sunrise over the city. I see Pinnacles, the fields—I get to see the town emptier. It’s nice to see things from a different perspective. I start to realize how beautiful this small town is. I would have never noticed in the past to this extent.”