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Anchorage schools are online, so how will this work? Questions and answers about the coming school year.

Anchorage School District building on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Bill Roth / ADN)

The Anchorage School District begins the academic year Thursday with all of its regular classes online-only, and families are grappling with the big changes that school-at-home brings.

Many wonder how, exactly, it will all work.

Families in Anchorage now have three schooling options to chose from in the district. Still, many are unsure which choice fits their family’s needs best. Some worry about helping their children learn at home while balancing work and other parental responsibilities. With school buildings shuttered to students, others are desperate for child care.

Here are some important things to know about the district’s plans for coming school year and some resources for families.

What are my different registration options?

This year, the district has three school options:

1. Its traditional school, called ASD in School, which is starting the year with online-only classes but may later switch to some in-person school.

2. Its home schools, Paideia, Frontier Charter School, and Family Partnership Charter School

3. Its new online school, ASD Virtual, which is similar to a home school program but keeps your child enrolled in his or her neighborhood school.

How do I register?

Right now, you can register your child online for either ASD in School and ASD Virtual. Remember, ASD in School is starting the year with all students in online distance learning classes.

You can also sign up for one of the home schools, but two -- Frontier and Family Partnership -- are already full, according to district spokeswoman Lisa Miller.

Paideia home school option is accepting students, but it doesn’t begin school until Aug. 31. You can sign up for its wait list online and someone from the school will call you to set up a meeting.

Can I change my registration later in the year?

Yes you can, but district administrators have said that the curriculum for each program is different, so it’s best to switch when the quarter changes, and not in the middle of a quarter.

So, if your child starts school in the ASD in School program but want to change your program to ASD Virtual, you should wait to change programs until the second quarter.

If the district is online-only, then what is the difference between its new virtual school and its regular school?

The district’s regular school option is starting online, but your child will have some daily, live instruction from teachers. Teachers will instruct students during Zoom sessions at the beginning of each class period and take attendance like normal school.

Roey Armstrong, 14, uses Google Classroom on her family's laptop at home on Friday, April 10, 2020. Armstrong was an 8th grader at Winterberry Charter School. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

So, if your high-schooler is taking a science class, English class and a math class, your student will log into a Zoom session with the rest of the class at the start of each class period. Teachers will give live instruction for at least 30 minutes and then direct the students into smaller work groups, or to work on assignments or other material for the rest of the class period. This is called a “synchronous” learning schedule because students log in and work together with a teacher in real time.

However, synchronous class will only happen four days a week -- Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Wednesdays, students will work on lessons and assignments at their own pace.

All schools will be using the same online program -- Canvas -- as a hub for their classes, where assignments, lessons and feedback will be available. The district aimed to take what would happen in a classroom normally and translate that curriculum online using Canvas and Zoom, according to Jennifer Knutson, senior director of teaching and learning.

This program may switch to a blend of in-person and online classes if the risk of the coronavirus decreases. That should be an easy switch, because students will already be working online on the same curriculum with the same classmates and teachers that they would see in a classroom, Knutson said.

ASD’s new virtual school is different -- it is mostly “asynchronous.” That means that students will work on most lessons at their own pace and have some check-ins and live tutoring from a district teacher. The curriculum is also different and uses already-existing virtual courses from online learning programs like Apex, eDynamics and Calvert.

In the ASD Virtual program, parents will need to be much more involved in their child’s at-home education, Knutson said.

Also, if the district’s regular program switches to some in-person class time, this program will not. Students will stay at home and learning online. It functions much like a home school program, Knutson said.

However, it does allow the student to stay enrolled in their regular neighborhood school, so they can participate in sports and other activities connected to that school. They will also get support from ASD teacher for each class they take, but the teacher likely won’t be one from their neighborhood school.

When will class be in-person again?

That depends on how much the coronavirus is spreading in the community. The district’s four-part plan for holding school during the coronavirus pandemic, which includes low-, medium-low-, medium-high- and high-risk scenarios for school operations, uses the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ data to determine the risk level it’s operating in. District administrators watching the average number of new cases per day over a 14-day period to help track the risk of coronavirus spread.

The low-risk scenario means students would attend in-person classes, the high-risk scenario means classes would be online only and the medium-risk scenarios mean a blend of online and in-person classes.

Right now, the district is in a high-risk scenario. That could change before the end of the first quarter, but Superintendent Deena Bishop has said that families should prepare to spend the entire first quarter online.

She has also said that the district will switch faster to a higher risk level than it will to a lower one. That means if there is an outbreak of coronavirus while school is happening in-person, the school district can immediately switch to online-only. However, the district will be more cautious opening buildings back up for in-person school and will make announcements every two weeks to give families time to prepare, Bishop has said.

How will my kids get their school lunch?

Just because school is online doesn’t mean that you’re kids won’t get school lunches. Gavin Northey, student nutrition business development manager for the district, said that the school will be distributing lunches through several schools that will act as meal distribution centers.

The district will also be delivering meals by school bus to families in neighborhoods in East and Northeast Anchorage and Eagle River, he said. Schools with a higher poverty rate among their families or those that are far away from distribution centers have the delivery option.

But meal distribution will work differently than it did in the spring because the district is operating under a stricter set of rules set out by the National School Lunch Program, Northey said. During spring, anyone under 18 was served, but now, a student must be enrolled in a school participating in the program to get lunch.

Now, parents will need to fill out a pre-order form online and select a distribution center or delivery if eligible.

The district distributes about 29,000 meals on any day, he said. Filling out a pre-order form helps the district ensure that students who need food will get it and makes the pickup and delivery process faster for the family, he said.

Also, be sure to re-apply for free or reduced lunch at the beginning of each school year if you’re eligible. Otherwise, each meal can cost you up to $5.25.

Meal distribution will occur twice a week, generally on Mondays and Wednesdays, Northey said.

I don’t have internet at home. What can I do to get access?

If your child does not have internet access, notify your child’s school right away, according to deputy superintendent Mark Stock.

The district has a few different options for families without internet.

You can apply to get a cable modem through the district from internet provider GCI. However, this is only available for the most needy families, Stock said. Contact your school to apply.

The district has some Wi-Fi hotspots available to lend out. Again, contact your school directly.

Internet provider ACS is also offering some discounts to Anchorage families with children in school.

I have internet but I don’t have a laptop or device my child can use for school. How can I get one?

You can request a device by calling or emailing your school and requesting one. The district will later deliver one by school bus to a location near your home, usually a bus stop, where you will need to meet the bus to pick up your device. You should receive a phone call notifying you a few hours beforehand.

The district currently has thousands of laptops requests to deliver on, and if you aren’t there to pick up your device, you may lose your spot in line, according to district spokeswoman Lisa Miller.

I have more than one child at home but they share an internet device -- will the district issue me another device?

Yes, you can request one. It may take some time before you receive the device, Miller cautioned.

This year the district will eventually issue a device to every student in grades 3-12, but right now schools around the world are ordering laptops and there is a distribution backlog, Stock said.

I have to work during the day, so what am I supposed to do about child care?

Many child care facilities in Anchorage are currently open. There are also some day camps popping up in the area.

But if you can not afford pay for child care, it is possible to get assistance from the state’s Child Care Program Office if you qualify.

The municipality also recently announced that it will be providing some child care assistance. Those funds, released to the city from the federal CARES Act, will go directly to licensed child care providers in the area. They can then reduce fees and tuition for families in need. You will need to contact child care providers directly to inquire.

Cook Inlet Tribal Council also offers some childcare assistance for Alaska Native and Native American families.

thread, an Alaska nonprofit, has a list of child care resources online. The nonprofit also helps families find child care centers that are currently enrolling.

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