The first day of school is always full of excitement, but Tuesday wasn’t your normal first day of school, not for kids in the Kodiak Island Borough School District.
For the first time ever, students wore masks to school and started their day with temperature checks, all to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Lance Charliaga, a sophomore at Kodiak High School, was glad to return to the classroom.
“In person, they can explain it more easily,” he said. “Online, it’s quite hard to hear them.”
After school, Charliaga was glad to take off his mask, which he said was sweaty and made him feel more tired because he couldn’t breathe as well.
Some teachers let the students go outside for masks breaks, which Phoebe Saunders, a 7th grader, says helps to ease the stress.
“My advisory teacher let us go outside and stay six feet apart – and let us take our masks off to breathe,” she said. “And we were just like dancing and having fun. And then we put them back on and went back inside.”
Gideon Saunders, Phoebe’s father, said he was glad to see daughter start school with other students. He doesn’t believe online classes are as healthy.
“There’s the psychological effect that it has on kids,” he said. “I think getting back together in a responsible way is really, really important.”
Joyce Blair, one of the assistant principals at Kodiak High School, said that overall, students seemed to adapt pretty well to the district’s new COVID prevention policies, perhaps because they have widespread community support.
Blair pointed to the bright orange bear tracks painted on the sidewalk outside the school, each paw print placed six feet apart. She said Lions Club volunteers painted them as a reminder to kids to social distance while they wait for the bus, but also to welcome them back to school.
“It’s so great to have all the kids back in school. I love having them back,” Blair said. “People are wanting to give hugs. You give them an elbow or an air hug. There are all these creative ways to great people now.”
Blair says she feels fortunate that the district has been able to begin the school year in green status, which allows in-person learning.
The district has plans in place to switch gears quickly if cases of COVID-19 emerge and begin to spread rapidly. Under yellow status, the district will offer a mix of online and in person classes. Under red, all aspects of school will become virtual.
Teachers, administrators and parents have been meeting all summer to plan for every scenario possible.
Superintendent Larry LeDoux says it’s been tough preparing for the unknown
“We have no idea what’s going to be happening here in a month from now, as we move forward,” LeDoux said. “Using the template the governor has given us, we have to not only be prepared for each risk level and how we’re going to deliver instruction, we have to seamlessly move between these areas, so we can maintain a consistency of instruction.”
As the kids boarded the school bus at the end of the day, they continued to wear their masks, but still managed to chatter and laugh.
As Phoebe Saunders said her priority on this first day of school was to make new friends – and masks and social distancing didn’t stop her.
She said she also enjoyed meeting her advisory teacher.
“He’s really goofy and fun and makes a lot of really bad jokes, that are like dad jokes,” she said. “He was really sweet.”
Saunders said the teacher also teamed her up with another student she had been bonding with, which helped her enjoy her first day. She says she’d rather put up with masks and temperature checks than not be at school.