Some Wrangell students are back in the classroom today.
Under the district’s “medium risk” COVID-19 mitigation plan, elementary students follow a blended learning course of half-days in person and half-days online. At the middle and high schools, students have regular, seven-class-period days Monday through Thursday. Fridays will be a half day.
Integral to the reopening plan is hiring additional aides. Those aides haven’t been hired yet. But district officials say low enrollment has allowed the district to shuffle existing staff to still open their doors this week.
A total of 164 students are registered at the three schools this year. As of Tuesday morning, there were 65 students registered at the elementary school, 48 registered at the middle school, and 51 registered at the high school. That’s just over half–53%, to be exact–of what registration was at this time last year.
Parents of returning children say a number of factors influenced their decision to send their kids back to school. Sarah Scambler has a kindergartner and a second grader who showed up on Monday.
“I think that they will be getting a better education going to school than if they stayed home with me,” Scambler said Tuesday. “Also, I work, and my husband works. So logistically it would not have worked for them to stay home.”
Scrambler says she believes the COVID-19 mitigation plan is the district’s best effort, adding that her kids were very excited to be back in school.
“I think that they are doing the best they can with what they’ve got. I have great faith in our teachers and I know that they take the health and safety of our kids very seriously,” Scambler explained.
Another Wrangell parent, Brooke Leslie, says her 12-year-old stepson struggled with distance learning last spring, and told his parents he wanted to get back in the classroom.
“He [said] wanted to go to school and he did not mind wearing a mask if that meant that he could go to class. And so we listened in on the meetings and read through the Smart Start plan and are giving it a try and seeing how it goes.”
Leslie says she feels that the lack of a statewide reopening plan has put more pressure on local school districts like Wrangell’s to balance changing public health recommendations and community opinion.
But what about the students who aren’t returning to school?
As of Tuesday morning, 81 students had officially withdrawn from or signaled their intent to withdraw from school. And based on last year’s registration numbers, around 50 students never registered in the first place this year.
Some parents are turning to homeschool. Erica Tlachac chose to keep her kindergarten-aged daughter at home, doing homeschool through Alaska’s IDEA program. Other Wrangell parents say their kids homeschool through Alaska’s PACE program, or Pennsylvania-based homeschool program Penn Foster.
“I wanted her to have something that would make her have a good first year of school,” Tlachac says. “I wanted her to have a positive experience and not to be super frustrated if all of a sudden she’s going to school and then all of a sudden she’s having to do online school.”
Tlachac says that even though homeschooling was the right decision for her family, she feels bad that her daughter won’t get the social experience of the classroom and playground this year. But she says she hopes to enroll her daughter in the near future.
Are you a parent of school-aged children? A Wrangell student back in classes, or doing homeschool? KSTK wants to hear from you. Send us an email at email@example.com, or give us a call at (907) 874-2345.