Bering Strait School District employees went back to work Monday, although not in a physical sense. Schools across the state are closed until May 1st, and some teachers are unable to return to their home communities. So BSSD is working out a plan to educate its students from a distance.
Dr. Bobby Bolen, superintendent of BSSD, told KNOM on Monday that he has district staff currently spread out across Alaska and even the Lower 48 who haven’t returned from their spring break travels.
“Because we are doing distance education, again everyone can go on work status, as long as they have internet or have phones. So, they’re reporting to their principals, they’re reporting to the district office from wherever they are…they can print it and they can get it out. So, teachers are working wherever they are, wherever they are quarantined.”
Bolen says he has told some teachers to shelter in place if they are in a Lower 48 community or place that has been severely impacted by the coronavirus, COVID-19.
Others however are in other parts of the state still trying to fly back to their home community. Rosa Wright was one of those BSSD teachers still in the process of traveling by Tuesday afternoon.
Wright has been in Anchorage self-quarantining for the past week and plans to do more of the same when she returns to Elim.
“When I return home I will be put into the back of a truck and driven to my apartment, which will start my 14-day quarantine. I’m instructed to not leave my apartment, I’m not allowed to go up to school or anything like that. Just hunkering down for 14 days.”
According to recently enacted BSSD policy, all school employees within the district who have traveled outside of the region must self-quarantine for 14 days once they return to their housing units. Bolen says the challenges this presents to teachers who are creating lesson plans, are also being troubleshooted.
“Each community is going to be a little bit different, we have some restrictions of internet at home, and other challenges we have to work through. Our distance learning will be online to those who can do it, it’ll be paper and pencil to those that need it that way. It could be by phone or we’ll have story time in Shaktoolik on VHF (radio).”
Wright is a math teacher for several grades of students at the local Elim school. Due to the current travel restrictions set in place across the state, and the lack of internet access in Elim, Wright says she’ll have to think outside the box when it comes to educating her students.
“I mean right now I’m looking at finding something to do with geometric building that the kids could do without internet. Most of my kids don’t have internet at home, and I don’t have internet at home myself, so I just use my personal hotspot. So, there’s that challenge of things being slow loading, or you can’t load them at all. So, we’re just creative about using things that are going to be engaging and that the kids can still do on their own.”
Bering Air, the regional airline that provides transportation to many BSSD communities, announced that their regular flight schedule is changing due to COVID-19 concerns. In addition, the City of Nome passed an emergency ordinance Monday which will limit travel in and out of Nome starting Thursday morning.
Bolen says these measures along with individual BSSD communities implementing their own travel restrictions will be honored by the school district as it tries to provide distance education to all of its students.
Image at top: Members of the Bering Strait School District’s board of education in 2015, including Superintendent Bobby Bolen, gathered in Golovin. Photo: Laura Kraegel, KNOM (2015).