Anchorage students return to school, West High gets more than expected

Students at West Anchorage High School fill classrooms on the first day of school Tuesday, Aug....
Students at West Anchorage High School fill classrooms on the first day of school Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 in Anchorage, Alaska.(ktuu)
Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 5:55 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Thousands of Anchorage students returned to the classroom on Tuesday. At West Anchorage High School, they received even more than expected.

Principal Sven Gustafson said they planned for about 1,600 students but on Tuesday morning at least 1,800 showed up.

“We had a number of kids show up today who hadn’t been registered or they’re brand new to our building, we didn’t even know they were coming,” Gustafson said. “That happens a lot during the first day, first week of school. So our counselors are just completely on overload right now back in the counseling office.”

Gustafson said only 39 West High students had registered for full-time virtual learning. The rest returned to the building. Hallways were crowded during passing time and so were some classrooms. All the students were wearing masks, as required by the school district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.

“I think I had four kids come to me and ask me for masks this morning,” he said. “Every other kid just had ‘em.”

The school district’s COVID-19 mitigation protocols call for keeping students 3 to 6 feet apart when indoors, if possible. But the protocols also state that students shouldn’t be excluded from in-person learning if the goal can’t be met. In a crowded high school, that could prove difficult. Gustafson said they are trying to maintain a 3-foot separation.

Most things at West look like a “return to normal” pre-pandemic, but Gustafson said there is still a learning curve for students and staff.

“How to tell kids how to open their lockers, you know, it’s been a while since they’ve actually used a combination,” he said. “That’s just a small little thing, but we forgot about it. And how about lunches? How do we do lunches and go through the lunch lines? We had to make sure we had all that stuff back in order, because literally, we haven’t really done that in two years.”

Gustafson said he knows the new year will bring challenges, and he’s hopeful he can keep students safe.

“There’s all this stuff going on, but at the end of the day, we are going to be okay,” he said.

He’s reminded his staff their focus should be on learning, saying they’ll tackle any problems, one day at a time.

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