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.
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.
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.
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.”