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Anchorage elementary schools welcome students back to class

Lake Otis Elementary welcomes back third through sixth graders
Lake Otis Elementary welcomes back third through sixth graders(ktuu)
Published: Feb. 8, 2021 at 6:13 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Most Anchorage elementary schools fully reopened Monday, welcoming third through sixth graders back to class. Older students now join pre-K through second graders who returned to class on Jan. 19.

Lake Otis Elementary third-grader Orion Grey said he felt a little nervous about being back.

“It’s been a long time,” he said.

But Alison Kwan, who has three students at the school, said her kids were ready to return to class.

“They miss their friends, they miss their teachers, and we miss our community. So we are back and we are trying it out,” Kwan said.

Lake Otis Principal Lynn Mayberry-Burke said only about 50 of the nearly 350 students enrolled at her school have indicated they won’t be returning to in-person learning.

“They have been excited to be here, as are families,” she said. “So I think it’s going really well.”

But COVID-19 precautions have made the school look quite different. A sixth-grade class has been moved to the gym so that students can spread out and social distance. In classrooms where desks can’t be six feet apart, Mayberry-Burke said partitions can help to keep individual students safe.

“There’s also the other larger plastic barriers that we have put up,” she said. “Our PTA bought each classroom an air purifier. We have tried to do all that we can possibly do to mitigate and create a safe environment for our kids.”

While teachers are generally happy to see their students return, some say they wish more was being done to keep them safe. Sixth grade teacher Jane vonBirgelen hasn’t received a COVID-19 vaccination and said she wished teachers were higher up in the queue to get one. VonBirgelen was looking forward to greeting her students in-person but said she sympathized with educators who weren’t ready to return to the classroom.

“I have had some very, very special, close friends who have chosen to take leave or retire,” she said. “And that’s bad for kids because they’re good. But people need to do what they have to do.”

The district says the number of elementary students who’ve opted to return or go virtual is changing every day, although the majority have indicated they wish to be back in school. The starting date for most middle and high school students to return to class is March 15, following spring break.

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