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KIBSD administrators work to preserve normalcy during distance learning

Kodiak High School (Photo by Kavitha George)
Kodiak High School (Photo by Kavitha George)

Kodiak Island Borough School District is into its third week of full-time distance learning classes after the state closed K-12 schools through the end of the school year. Kerry Irons, principal at North Star Elementary says that one of the toughest parts of educating children remotely is making sure they still feel connected to a social emotional support network.

“That’s the primary focus at the elementary level,” she said, “making sure that every day there’s an opportunity for our kids to have a class meeting to with their classmates, to join in and hang out together and have a purpose to be there together with their teacher.”

She says teachers have worked to make sure there’s time each day to video conference together as a class. It’s a time to have guest visits from the principal, or a school counselor and gives kids an opportunity to share what’s going on with them.

“I was just talking with my staff this morning about some of the things that they’re doing for morning meetings, sharing videos that they’ve done, sharing pictures, sharing the work that they’ve done at home,” Irons said. “[Teachers] are kind of the strand, the thread that holds the classroom community together right now and it’s very powerful.”

Special education director Geoff Smith said that for kids with special needs, constant communication between families and teachers has become even more important.

“I believe our staff has worked extremely hard, whether it’s special ed or general ed in partnering with our parents in partnering with our grandparents and saying how can be how can we be responsive to what you need right now and what your student needs right now.”

The technological hurdles to distance learning are also an ongoing challenge for administration. The district worked with GCI, Alaska Communications, and AT&T to provide free internet for households without service. Each student is assigned an iPad for classwork. And since parents are a major part of ensuring kids continue their education in a distance learning setup, the district is also offering support services for families.

In addition to a technology help desk and a translator on call, Irons said, “We have a hotline for our nurses. So if the families have questions about medical concerns, our nurses are there to answer those questions. And we have counselors, if they’re worried about the emotional needs of their of their kids and themselves and their family.”

At the high school level, Principal Mel LeVan says with so many events cancelled, they’re brainstorming how to accommodate a special send off for the graduating class of seniors.

“We definitely at the high school, feel compelled to do whatever we can for this group of seniors to make the make their end of their high school career as special as possible,” he said. “I think somebody found another district in the state doing some sort of parade as one way to recognize the seniors. Some families are putting up signs in their windows acknowledging that they have a senior in the house. And we’re we’re definitely opened and planned to do things that are special for this group.”

We had a group of administrators on our daily coronavirus update show The Lowdown on Tuesday morning. Wednesday’s show, we’ll catch up with some physicians and other members of the medical community, so call-in your questions at (907) 486-3181. You can also email questions at