Education

One year after the pandemic changed everything, Anchorage middle and high schoolers are heading back to classrooms

Anchorage School District students left for spring break in 2020, thinking they would be back in their classrooms after a week.

Now, a full calendar year later, middle and high schoolers are heading back to the classroom for in-person learning, face masks and all.

Some students are feeling mixed emotions heading back to in-person learning, while others are ready for a sense of normalcy.

Monday is new student orientation, which will be for middle schoolers and ninth graders. Seventh grader Claudia Rector is eager to set foot in Romig Middle School, where she has been attending online school since August. She’s been in the school building before, but never as a student.

“I have spent all year online, so finally being able to see the school and attending class is really exciting,” Rector said. “I am excited for (new student orientation) because I don’t really know much about the school or anything... I have gone a couple of times, but I’ll actually know where to go.”

Rector said her attention span was shorter at home than in a classroom setting.

“There are certain parts of (at-home learning) that I will miss — like I get to sleep in more and it’s nice being in your own house, “ Rector said.

But, she said, “I really like being in-person more... if you need help, you can get it easier.”

Middle and high schoolers are the last group of students returning to in-person instruction. Third through sixth graders returned to the classroom in early February. Preschoolers and first and second graders were back in classrooms this January.

[When the pandemic hit, this Anchorage elementary school teacher moved her classroom outdoors]

Ronan Schmidt, a seventh grader at Goldenview Middle School, said he has mixed feelings about going back.

“It’s a little weird and scary because the pandemic is still happening, but we’re going back to school already,” Schmidt said.

But Schmidt hasn’t loved online learning, either. It’s hard to stay focused at home. Plus, he’s never met his teachers outside of a Zoom room, which he said makes it hard to build relationships. He hopes being back in the classroom will change that.

“(Being in-person), I can actually connect with teachers on a more personal level,” Schmidt said.

Protocol inside schools will look a bit different than prior to the pandemic. Face coverings and social distancing of 6 feet will be required at all times. Hand sanitizer must be used before entering each classroom, where each student will have an assigned seat. In addition, lockers won’t be used, and students will be prohibited from gathering in hallways and common areas.

[Fully vaccinated people can safely gather without masks and visit grandchildren, CDC says in long-awaited guidelines]

Junior Emily Taylor of Dimond High School said precautions are necessary to keep everyone safe, but that socializing at school won’t be the same experience it was pre-pandemic.

Taylor received her second dose of the vaccine just a few weeks ago and wanted to return to in-person learning to see how she liked it.

“(The district seems) to have thought a lot about the protocol set they have put in place,” Taylor said.

She added, “it seems a little odd to me to go back right after spring break when I feel like we have really gotten used to the format we have been using all year.”

It is the third time her school format has changed in the past year, which she said is a lot of adjustment and changes in a short amount of time. Right now, Taylor is completing three classes per quarter, instead of six classes per semester.

“You do half of your classes but in double speed, you have to fit a semester of course material into a quarter... half of my classes, I have already finished through the online format,” Taylor said.

Taylor acknowledged that the last year has brought its own challenges.

“Some of the classes, it could be difficult to keep your attention on if it wasn’t very engaging,” Taylor said.

But Taylor said she will miss the flexibility of at-home learning. She liked the freedom that came with it.

“Our classes are 90 minutes — but if your teacher only had 45 minutes worth of instruction for the day, you could just leave class and go do your assignments on your own,” Taylor said.

For families in Anchorage who are hesitant to send their children back to school, ASD is keeping online learning as an option. The district is offering four options for middle and high school students to complete the fourth quarter: in-person, hybrid, ASD Virtual and ASD Homeschool.

And even for students going back to school buildings, the schedule won’t be exactly as it was before the pandemic. All middle and high school students returning to classrooms this school year will have in-person school Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesday will be an at-home day, when students can work at their own pace.

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