A WALK IN THE PARK – Jim Moormann walks through Sitka National Historical Park this morning, as he has every day for the past two and a half years. This Saturday is National Trails Day, an annual event which began in 1993 to honor the National Trail System. In normal years volunteers help with trail maintenance in parks across the country. This year there will be no organized cleanup in Sitka and, without tour ship visitors, Sitkans will have the park to themselves. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Mr. Joe’s Ninja Cat Keeps Kids Hopping

Sentinel Staff Writer

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down in-person schooling across the state in March, Baranof Elementary Physical Education teacher Joe Montagna got creative.

Having spent years as a musician, Montagna, or “Mr. Joe” to his young students, made his video lessons on Microsoft Teams into performances, complete with music and lots of interaction.

Mr. Joe Montagna leads an exercise class on his deck this morning. A laptop balanced on a barbecue grill connects the Baranof Elementary School gym teacher with his students. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

“It’s part of being a performer... I was a professional musician my entire life before I came to Sitka and I still am here,” he said in an interview. “I did the Queen show and the Pink Floyd show,” he said, referring to the sold-out rock concert re-enactments at the Sitka Performing Arts Center.

Though he regrets being separated from his kindergarten and first grade students, Montagna said he makes an effort to stay positive.

“I never harp on what we cannot do. I always harp on what we can do, and what we should do,” he said.

Having said that, he noted that his students are missing out on T-ball as well as other team sports, presenting challenges in his online teaching.

All of the exercises Montagna leads his students through are done individually and performed at home. Most of the exercises involve body weight calisthenics and cardio, from simple pushups and situps to running in place and jumping jacks.

“It’s really hard to do a team sport from their bedroom... The biggest challenge is the team sport experience they’re missing out on right now – the social aspect of recess, because I’m the recess leader at school,” he said.

Montagna even invented an exercise he calls the “Ninja Cat,” a combination of karate chops and high leg kicks.

First grade teacher Jeff Hole recounted the first time his students did the Ninja Cat.

“At first I was a little skeptical, but Joe is in it to win it,” Hole said. “And one day I needed something to do with my kids in the morning and I said ‘Joe, do you have something you can do with them?’ And he came in with this thing called Ninja Cat. They got big smiles when they got up there, and they were having a blast doing the Ninja Cat thing Joe invented.”

Baranof Elementary School Principal Jill Lecrone said, “Mr. Joe, our PE teacher, has a charismatic personality in the first place. When we were in school he has very strong relationships with his students .... He wanted to make PE accessible to all of his kids, he didn’t want to make them feel overwhelmed.”

“Mr. Joe has given them activities that they can do in their living room… His PE classes are very popular,” Lecrone said.

Montagna added that another challenge is ensuring that children complete the exercises.

“Being able to make sure that they’re exercising when they shut the computers off, it’s hard to motivate a five-year-old to look at their planner ... I try to promote 30 minutes (of exercise) a day,” he said.

Hole agreed that the transition to online learning presented a new set of challenges.

“All of us teachers are trying to put the kids first and figure out what’s best for our students, though these are strange and uncharted waters. We’re doing our best to keep our children in the forefront,” Hole said.

Montagna said he greatly prefers face-to-face teaching. Online teaching “feels like it’s inadequate,” he said, “because I’m definitely more of an in-person teacher.”

Lecrone said she also misses being able to see her students in person.

“Not seeing all of our kids in person has been the hardest thing for all of us, and trying to figure out how to provide quality education during this shutdown,” she said.

Montagna added that this new style of teaching is also exhausting.

“My eyes are exhausted at the end of every day, my brain hurts from staring at a screen,” he said. He does all of the exercises he assigns in his classes, which can be strenuous when classes occur back-to-back.

“I’m getting five times the workout because I’m moving the entire time, live on the screen,” he said.

But with the school year ending next week, Joe Montagna had one more request for his students.

“Mr. Joe wants to remind everyone to exercise and be active all summer long!” he said.


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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 6-5-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 11:50 a.m. Friday.

New cases as of Thursday: 11

Total statewide – 524

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 48, and the cumulative number of deaths is 10.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.



Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020



For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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