Students from Riverbend Elementary School arrive for their first day of classes at Chapel By the Lake on Jan. 24. The church offered its education wing to the Juneau School District after a burst pipe shuttered the Riverbend school building. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Students from Riverbend Elementary School arrive for their first day of classes at Chapel By the Lake on Jan. 24. The church offered its education wing to the Juneau School District after a burst pipe shuttered the Riverbend school building. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Amen! School is back in session for Riverbend students

Riverbend students start school at Chapel by the Lake

After a winter break longer than anyone anticipated, in-person school resumed Monday for Riverbend Elementary School students.

It was the first time students and staff gathered together for an in-person school day since late December when school adjourned for the holidays after a series of events prevented the school from resuming as planned.

As the break wrapped up, a severe snowstorm and ice shuttered schools districtwide for three days, extending the holiday break. During the storm, a pipe burst at Riverbend Elementary School, closing the school and setting off a scramble to find a new location for classes to resume.

The search for an alternative location led to an unexpected offer when Tim Harrison, senior pastor at Chapel by the Lake, called Ted Wilson, director of teaching and learning support for the Juneau School District, and pitched the church’s classrooms, office and commercial kitchen as a possible solution.

The call led to a visit from school officials and a quick decision to move the majority of Riverbend’s students and staff to the church.

[When pipes burst, generosity flows]

After a week of frantic work by Rotary volunteers, school administrators, teachers, parents and professional movers, students arrived Monday morning by bus and by car. They offered excited greetings to teachers and staff members standing outside to greet them.

“I was so relieved to keep people together,” said Elizabeth Pisel-Davis, Riverbend principal, at a Friday evening open house to welcome families to the new location.

Pisel-Davis explained that before the offer to use the church materialized, she thought the school would be divided by grade with classes meeting all over town —a situation she said she was happy to avoid.

“We are a family. We want to be together,” she said.

Welcome back

On Friday, families got a sneak peek at the new school set up during an open house at the church.

Wilson said parent feedback on the new location had been overwhelmingly positive at the open house.

“Families are excited,” he said.

[Smooth sailing for the 2022 season?]

Wilson said the change of venue was offering silver linings in opportunities to try new things. As an example, he said that teachers are combining the third grade classes into a big room and trying team teaching.

He said students would have new experiences, like walking over to the University of Alaska Southeast for certain activities.

Wilson said he’s not sure how long school will meet at the church. He said the City and Borough of Juneau, the district’s insurance company and the construction company are all working through details related to the repairs.

Second grade teacher Hannah O’Daniel said the move had been a little chaotic, but she was looking forward to being back to in-person classes and learning together.

“It’s a good chance to grow through humor,” she said.

Amanda Swanson, who teaches first grade, called the experience “an adventure.”

“Our families have offered overwhelming support, asking ‘What can I do?’” Swanson said as she put last-minute touches on her new room Friday evening.

“Life is full of twists and turns.”

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891.

A bus full of students from Riverbend Elementary School arrives for the first day of classes at the school’s temporary location at Chapel by the Lake in Auke Bay on Jan. 24. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

A bus full of students from Riverbend Elementary School arrives for the first day of classes at the school’s temporary location at Chapel by the Lake in Auke Bay on Jan. 24. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Emma Tripp, 8, checks out her new second grade classroom on Jan. 21. Tripp, along with other students and staff from Riverbend Elementary School will gather in the education wing of Chapel by the Lake while crews repair damage from a burst pipe at Riverbend Elementary School. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Emma Tripp, 8, checks out her new second grade classroom on Jan. 21. Tripp, along with other students and staff from Riverbend Elementary School will gather in the education wing of Chapel by the Lake while crews repair damage from a burst pipe at Riverbend Elementary School. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Teacher Amanda Swanson sits at her temporary desk in the education wing of the Chapel by the Lake church near Auke Bay on Jan. 21. Swanson was welcoming first grade students from Riverbend Elementary School to their temporary classroom at an open house event ahead of the first day of school at the site. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Teacher Amanda Swanson sits at her temporary desk in the education wing of the Chapel by the Lake church near Auke Bay on Jan. 21. Swanson was welcoming first grade students from Riverbend Elementary School to their temporary classroom at an open house event ahead of the first day of school at the site. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

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