Sitka Schools Deal with New Challenges

Category: Local News
Created on Monday, 23 March 2020 15:13

By GARLAND KENNEDY
Sentinel Staff Writer
    Alaskan schools will remain closed through May 1 out of concern for the spread of COVID-19, Gov. Dunleavy said in his eighth coronavirus Health Mandate Friday.
    “Public and private schools are closed to students through May 1, 2020. Students will receive instruction through distance delivery methods. All after-school activities will be suspended during this time,” the mandate reads.
    Previous announcements had already shuttered schools through March 30.
    School District Superintendent Mary Wegner told the Sentinel that school staff will use the current week to plan for distance learning.
    Wegner said a critical goal is “really partnering with families.”
    She said that a concrete distance learning should be in place and made public by Friday.
    “The biggest challenge in my mind is making sure we provide equity. Every student is going to have a different situation,” Wegner said over the phone.
    In addition, this morning was the start of the Sitka School District’s free “grab and go” breakfast and lunch program. Wegner said the program will continue as long as the schools are closed.
    “Students may pick up their meals at Sitka High School from 8 a.m. to noon,” the district website said. “All families with an economic need are encouraged to participate. All district students, and any additional youths under the age of 19 in the same household, can get meals. This includes children too young to be enrolled in school or who are enrolled in private school or another district, as long as an SSD student lives in the same household.”
    Anyone interested in and eligible for the meals program can sign up at tinyurl.com/SSDCovidNeeds, or by calling 907-747-8622.

TOP: AmeriCorps Volunteers and school meal program chef Jo Michalski watch cars arrive at Sitka High School this morning to pick up free lunch and breakfast bags. The Sitka School District is making the meals available to all students during the school closure. Students may pick up their meals 8 a.m.  to noon at Sitka High School. Pictured are, from left,  Lysette Kessler, Ashley Nessler, Michalski and Jamie Hovis. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

BOTTOM: AmeriCorps Volunteer Lysette Kessler holds up a thank-you note written by one of the students receiving bag meals. “Dear Makers, Thank You.”  (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

    Meals are served drive-up style, and the district has limited delivery capacity for those under quarantine or without transport.
    Wegner said that anyone under quarantine or with any health concerns should call the district office to arrange food delivery, rather than risking their health.
    The district also said the telecommunications companies GCI and ACS will provide free, entry-level internet plans through May 31, and also will upgrade pre-existing plans for free during the same period. Wegner added that the district is surveying families to find out who needs to check out a laptop to enable distance education.
    Across the bridge, Mt. Edgecumbe High has only three students remaining after the school’s nearly 400 students were ordered home, Superintendent Jannell Vanesse told the Sentinel. Those three have been unable to return home because poor weather grounded their flights.
    Vanesse emphasized that while the school buildings are shut, Mt. Edgecumbe plans to continue education.
    “We are continuing education…. We plan to contact kids in each class by Wednesday of this week. At last through email or by phone,” she said.
    But the Edgecumbe superintendent added that since many of her students have returned to their small villages, educational needs will vary.
    “We know there’s not going to be one size fits all. Our classes are going to be delivered in a variety of ways.”
    Vanesse said recent events shouldn’t prevent seniors from receiving their diplomas, but the prospects for a graduation ceremony remain uncertain.
    She said the effort of her staff, and the staffs of other boarding schools in Anchorage and Nome in the process of returning the students to their homes was tremendous.
    “I cannot be thankful enough for the people who helped us in the in-between,” she said. “It’s really humbling, the amount of support we have gotten.”
    Wegner hit a similar note.
    “I just would like to thank the community... and our staff, we have incredibly professional staff.”