The Juneau School District building, March 20, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

The Juneau School District building, March 20, 2020. (Michael S. Lockett | Juneau Empire)

Charter school helps students stay connected amid distance

Teachers work with students and families to support each other.

With schools closed, a lot of staff and students are dealing with new realities of learning. For high-schoolers, this may not be a huge transition. But things are different for younger students.

“As a middle school teacher, I already had an online forum or interface to interact with students,” said Jenny Strumfield, a middle school teacher at the Juneau Community Charter School. “I hadn’t used it as extensively as high school teachers. I had to figure out how to make it interactive with students.”

The JCCS is a kindergarten through eighth-grade school within the Juneau School District that focuses on a more flexible curriculum for its students. That might be anything from assistance with technology or internet access or simply asking how a student is doing.

“Academics is important, but having that connection is key. Sometimes kids come to office hours. Sometimes it’s sort of a social or emotional check in,” Strumfield said. “When we’re reaching out to families, it’s first at a ‘how are you’ level. Are you picking up your food bags? Is your internet working?”

Many classes are being taught using a variety of teaching tools on new schedules. But teaching middle-schoolers and students in the lower grades or kindergarten offer distinct challenges.

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“It’s been really interesting. My daughter created a how-to video on how to swing from a rope swing and shared it with her class,” said Renee Drummond, who teaches fourth and fifth grade at JCCS. “Having ways to share more than just the academics has been a special way for students to maintain their friendships.”

For kindergarten teachers, that connection is especially important as their students are learning skills about how to form friendships and social relationships.

“For them, the biggest part is that social piece of getting back together on the screen. The first time was really chaotic,” said JCCS kindergarten teacher Lindsay Baranovic. “We kind of switched after the first week to make it a little more productive. We broke down to three small groups during their synchronous meeting time.”

Part of the work teachers are trying to do is giving a little order and distraction to students now at home all the time, often with their parents. As teachers and students get more used to the new way of teaching, the JCCS is reintegrating sections like art and band classes into the schedule.

“They actually function much better in a routine. My goal has been to keep families and kids in a happy and joyful place, to keep the stress out of it,” said JCCS Principal Caron Smith. “Let the teachers be the teacher, and you continue to be the support and here’s how we can help you to do that.”

The JCCS is now taking attendance applications for the fall semester, Caron said. The deadline is April 24.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or

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