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Students From Region Travel to Boarding & CTE Schools For School Year Amidst Pandemic

North Slope Borough school district students will now be required to learn about their local government and history in order to graduate. Photo: frankjuarez, Flickr Creative Commons
North Slope Borough school district students will now be required to learn about their local government and history in order to graduate. Photo: frankjuarez, Flickr Creative Commons

Three boarding schools that enroll students from Western Alaska are reopening this fall, and students are expected to travel outside of the region to live on campus for the school year.

Kusilvak Career Academy (KCA) and Alaska Middle College School (AMCS) are located in Anchorage, and both schools will be requiring students interested in attending to live on campus during the first semester despite engaging in online-only learning.

Superintendent Gene Stone discussed the reason why the School Board for the Lower Yukon School District (LYSD) voted to approve the restart of KCA amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

“The reason we’d still bring them in is because the broadband connectivity is so much superior there, so juniors and seniors could still take their online courses.”

– Superintendent Gene Stone

The LYSD School Board approved KCA to operate with a limited number of students from their region, 25. The board justified the decision by asserting that while “health and safety of the students is a #1 priority… education also is #1.”

LYSD Board also approved sending three students to AMCS, determining it will be “up to the parents to have their kid(s) travel in the first quarter.” One of the students is from Alakanuk, and the other two are both from Scammon Bay.

Mount Edgecumbe High School (MEHS) in Sitka reopened in person on Monday, August 24th. The boarding school brings students in from around the state to live on campus and attend classes. There are 18 Nome-based students attending MEHS this school year.

Even with extensive travel protocols and contingency plans in the event of an outbreak, KTUU reported that two MEHS students tested positive for the coronavirus during routine testing the Friday before school officially restarted. The students who tested positive were isolated immediately, as well the students identified as close contacts.

Despite recent COVID-19 cases, Superintendent Janelle Vanasse is committed to the decision to hold in-person classes while still remaining flexible as time passes.

“Now that we’re in it, and we’re executing our plan, we’re relying on a really solid plan but we are still having to make decisions every day.”

– Janelle Vanasse

Back in Nome, classes at the Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center (NACTEC) will only be available for NPS students during this first semester.

Even within the Bering Strait region, top administrators like Superintendent Jamie Burgess have had to make tough decisions about students’ access to in-person CTE courses.

“It’s a little sad for our Bering Strait students. Their loss is definitely our gain, so we are actually kind of expanding some of the elective offerings at the middle and high schools.”

– Jamie Burgess

Bering Strait School District’s Superintendent Dr. Bobby Bolen hopes to incorporate some technical classes in villages throughout the district, such as small engines.

“[Small engines] Have them sent out to a village, and then the NACTEC staff would kind of provide the direction with a teacher of record in the village along with a group of students, and they could do that class.”

– Dr. Bobby Bolen

As boarding and CTE schools continue to reopen, school administrators will have to continue to make tough decisions about how to best serve their students without compromising their health and safety.

Image at top: Empty chairs in a school classroom. Photo from Frank Juarez via Flickr/Creative Commons (2015).

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Based in the Bering Strait region, KNOM broadcasts throughout the homelands of the Iñupiaq, Siberian Yup’ik, Cup’ik and Yup’ik peoples.