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Teachers, students working to make the best of virtual learning

The Anchorage School District remains in ‘high risk’ mode
Published: Sep. 5, 2020 at 4:08 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - At Begich Middle School in Anchorage, hallways stay empty and lockers stay closed, but one particular classroom is staying full of life between lizards, fish, tentative science experiences and a teacher guiding students remotely.

“Normally, it looks a bit different,” said sixth and seventh grade science teacher Hannah Souders, who invited us to see what it’s like to try to teach - and learn - during a pandemic. “It’s been strange having an empty classroom, but I still come in because it feels more like teaching.”

Students in Anchorage have returned to class online, and they, their parents, and their teachers have had to work hard to adjust to new ways of life when it comes to learning: From muted mics to disabled video screens to everything else that comes with online learning, the first few weeks, Souders said, have proven challenging.

“It’s difficult to tell if they’re with me sometimes,” she said, “but thankfully there’s little ‘thumbs up’ options and ways to track and kind of tell if they’re following along. But figuring out all the online troubleshooting, and passwords, and Zoom links: I can’t imagine how challenging that is for students and parents. And yet, we’re doing it. And that’s awesome.”

Teaching science can be especially difficult over e-learning, considering the hands-on format that is most often taken by instructors.

“In the spring, there’s all sorts of chemical reactions and things you have to see yourself,” Souders said, “to really understand what’s happening.”

There are good things, though, and great moments too, starting with the beginning of each class period.

“It’s nice to have that sort of everyday check in,” Souders said. “We always start with some sort of good thing for sharing. And having the social time is really important.”

For now, Souders, her fellow teachers, her students and their parents are all making do.

“If we’ve learned anything since March, it’s how to be adaptable and how to communicate and collaborate,” she said. “It’s not going to be easy, and sometimes it won’t be fun, but if you can persevere - even through this - imagine what you can do.”

The Anchorage School District’s coronavirus risk level remains high, with the currently 14-day rolling average sitting at 40 new cases per day for the Municipality of Anchorage. The seven-day rolling average is at 41 cases.

A two-week average above 29 is considered high risk; on the other end, a 14-day average of fewer than 15 cases per day is considered low risk. While the current case counts indicate that the district will remain in a mostly remote teaching format for the foreseeable future, ASD is said to be monitoring community COVID-19 on a daily basis. District-wide risk level decisions are made every two weeks.

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