Vanessa Dickinson adjusts second grade student Kanani Dickinson's mask ahead of the first day of school. Kanani Dickinson is a student at Auke Bay Elementary School. Vanessa Dickinson said she's excited the 7 year old is back in school. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Full-time, in-person learning returns for Juneau’s students

School is in session.

On Monday morning, parents welcomed the sound of the school bell as students in grades 1 through 12 returned to classrooms across the City and Borough of Juneau.

Gray skies and light rain overhead did not dampen spirits as crossing guards, bus drivers, teachers, principals and paraprofessionals welcomed students back to campus. Parents straightened masks and provided last-minute advice to younger students before they entered open school doors.

[Hello, school: Juneau students make full-time return to classroom]

“I’m ready, I’ve got the good ol’ school butterflies you’re supposed to have,” said William Sarandira, who is entering his first year as principal for Auke Bay Elementary School. “People are entering the building, so they made it.”

Kalei Shotwell walks third grade student Loche Hanselman and first grade student Ady Hanselman into Auke Bay Elementary School on Monday morning. Shotwell said she was both excited and nervous about the return of in-person, five-days-a-week school. Shotwell said she is impressed with Juneau School District’s mitigation policies. “I give the school a lot of credit,” Shotwell said. “It feels normal, and I think that’s a big deal for most people.” (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Kalei Shotwell walks third grade student Loche Hanselman and first grade student Ady Hanselman into Auke Bay Elementary School on Monday morning. Shotwell said she was both excited and nervous about the return of in-person, five-days-a-week school. Shotwell said she is impressed with Juneau School District’s mitigation policies. “I give the school a lot of credit,” Shotwell said. “It feels normal, and I think that’s a big deal for most people.” (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

After two years marked by distance learning and schedule disruptions, it’s the first time many students have returned to the school building since the typical, in-person school schedule was suspended over COVID-19 concerns in March 2020.

Last school year, the first day of school took place online. Students across the district logged on for distance learning classes from home as part of the district’s response to COVID-19. In January, students started an optional, partial-return to in-person learning and gradually geared up to four in-person days each week. Wednesday’s were set aside for independent study. Staff continued to offer distance learning opportunities for students who were not comfortable returning to in-person school.

[School board OKs mask plan for fall]

During last week’s school board meeting, Superintendent Bridget Weiss said that schools will meet in person each weekday and that activities will supplement classroom instruction.

Photos by Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire
Moctar Diouf takes a photo of fourth grader Momar Diouf outside Auke Bay Elementary School on Monday, the first day of the new school year.

Photos by Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire Moctar Diouf takes a photo of fourth grader Momar Diouf outside Auke Bay Elementary School on Monday, the first day of the new school year.

“We know there will be a lot of social and emotional needs,” Weiss said during the school board meeting.

She said that COVID-19 mitigation protocols, including mask-wearing inside all school buildings, are a key to keep schools open and activities running smoothly.

“Activities are lifeline programs that are very important to our kids,” she said. “We have a collective responsibility to sustain in-person learning.”

A sidewalk-based message welcomes students and staff back to Glacier Valley Elementary School ahead of the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 16. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

A sidewalk-based message welcomes students and staff back to Glacier Valley Elementary School ahead of the first day of school on Monday, Aug. 16. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)

Kindergarten starts on Thursday, Aug. 19, and preschool begins Tuesday, Aug. 24.

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at dana.zigmund@juneauempire.com or 907-308-4891. Ben Hohenstatt contributed reporting to this article.

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