Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

District works on plans for next school year amid pandemic


May 28, 2020

As students enter summer vacation amid decreasing COVID-19 restrictions, administrators are busy preparing for what the next school year might look like amid the ongoing pandemic.

Haines Borough School District superintendent Roy Getchell is creating surveys and conducting focus groups with students, parents, teachers and residents to try and learn what worked well with distance learning, and what could be improved.

Getchell said he plans to not only interview school stake holders, but professionals in the medical field, business leaders and mental health. “Hopefully, when you filter all of this together you can get a better idea of how we can safely meet the needs of our students and our community,” Getchell said.

Beyond local desires and needs, Getchell must consider CDC guidelines and work within the Department of Education and Early Development’s “Alaska Smart Start 2020” framework for how to reopen schools across the state. DEED is creating low, medium and high-risk categories for districts across the state, which will influence everything from safety protocols, food service and transportation needs to the scope of curriculum, schedules and how to measure learning.

“We know that we have to plan for multiple scenarios because things are apt to change no matter what,” Getchell said. “The hope is that by the end of June I’ve got a plan for the board which we’ll have to reassess at the end of July or at the end of August. Right now, a month is a long time.”

DEED is following CDC guidelines and the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services and will work with each school district as it plans on how and wh 0ere to educate students.

In other parts of the country, schools are planning to limit exposure by alternating days students come to school, keeping gatherings to a minimum and requiring students to wear masks.

Getchell organized a focus group with middle schoolers and teachers last week where they discussed, if distance learning happens again, everything from requiring group class meetings to purchasing blue-light filtering glasses to combat eye fatigue. Distance learning required students to work on laptops and iPads for several hours a day.

“This year we had to do a lot of online stuff,” eighth grader and student council member Ariel Godinez Long said. “That was hard for my eyes.”

Class lectures were taught via Zoom, an online group meeting platform. Those classes were optional for students this spring. Middle school teacher Lisa Andriesen said that if distance learning continues next school year, at least some of those group events should be mandatory.

“I would require that they attend the classes at least twice a week if it was full-time online schooling,” Andriesen said. “We need to see more students face to face. Some kids got confused or kind of lost since (the meetings) weren’t required. They didn’t always understand what they were supposed to do.”

She said that group sessions enable students to benefit from others’ questions, questions they might not have thought to ask.

“That happens in a regular classroom,” Andriesen said. “They learn from each other, feed off other people’s ideas. They missed that kind of a thing for sure.”

The state waived standardized testing requirements this spring as well as a literacy evaluation for lower grades. Andriesen described the curriculum as bare bones and that if distance learning continues, teachers will need additional resources to help with instruction.

Her daughter, student body president Lydia Andriesen, said students were initially stressed with the amount of work they had, but teachers and administrators reduced the load as the last quarter progressed. On average, she said she spent between 4-5 hours online each day with school work.

“Art and music were optional, which helped with the amount of time we spent online, but a lot of our classes (were reduced.) In world history we didn’t get to World War II,” Andriesen said. “We didn’t finish our energy unit in physics. We didn’t get into another chapter in Spanish.”

Getchell said the district did well getting students through the end of the year, but that the model is unsustainable in the long run.

“There’s no way we could sustain doing what we did if it was on a long-term basis,” Getchell said. “We have to make some adjustments.”


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