Episode 14: Secondary Back in School

  • You voiced your questions and concerns about the ASD School Start 2020 plan, and the District heard. Starting this week, ASD will air a twice weekly, pre-recorded Q&A session with a variety of ASD and community member hosts and guests who will take a deep dive into the details of what school will look like this fall. Videos will post by the end of day every Tuesday and Thursday leading up to the start of the school year. Topics will dig into everything from teacher tricks to encourage social distancing among young students (airplane arms!)? to how will my senior be best prepared for post-graduation life during a pandemic?


    Send us your questions here! The District wants to hear your thoughts and comments to be considered for inclusion in the interview.





    Lisa Miller - Hi, and welcome to Airplane Arms, Navigating Back to School. I'm Lisa Miller, I'm a communications specialist with the Anchorage School District. We're just days away from January 19th, and we are joined today with Marty Lang, who is a director in Secondary Education. And Marty's gonna join us today to talk about what that will look like for students in secondary grades. Welcome Marty.


    Marty Lang - Hey, Lisa, how are you?


    Lisa Miller - I'm doing well, how are you?


    Marty Lang - I'm doing well.


    Lisa Miller - Good, good. Thanks for joining us.


    Marty Lang - I'm glad.


    Lisa Miller - So let's talk about, first of all there's gonna be roughly about 25% of secondary students coming back to buildings on the 19th. So tell us a little bit about that.


    Marty Lang - Yeah, you bet. I guess I'd like to start with saying, it's been an interesting year in education and I really wanna give a shout out to our teachers, since August they have done an amazing job in the secondary realm, in our middle schools and our high schools, really building their capacity to deliver online instruction in an engaging way. They've learned a whole new set of tools, a whole new environment and really have grown their capacity to do that well. And our students too have done an amazing job of figuring out this new normal and how to navigate this landscape academically from home. But we also know that as much success as we've seen with our teachers and our students, there are some of our secondary students who haven't done particularly well in this online environment. So starting January 19th, our intent this quarter is to bring some students back in small groups to all of our middle schools and high schools to try to better serve their needs. And so in second quarter our schools really started looking at the data from first quarter to see who is successful and who wasn't. And then they continued to track students through their second quarter progress. And by early December they have identified those students who really weren't successful in this online environment. So they looked at, you know, really prioritizing which students we would wanna come back for this small group opportunity based on that data. So they looked at seniors who might be at risk of not graduating. They looked at eighth graders in our middle schools who are matriculating up to high school next year who may have gaps in their foundational learning that's gonna really not set them up well to be successful in high school. They looked at students who failed two or more classes. First semester as an indicator. They looked at kids who have not had any history of failing classes, but suddenly failed one, maybe an indicator that there was something in their home environment that wasn't conducive to online learning. Maybe they didn't have good wifi connectivity that they could count on or a quiet place to study. And so really inviting those students back into the building January 19 so we can hopefully provide them a better environment and more support so that they can find success. We also looked at students who had inconsistent or non-existence attendance and hope that this maybe was an opportunity to re-engage them in their learning.


    Lisa Miller - Yeah, thanks Marty. And just like how in the spring time we've really had to rethink how we do school. Now that we're entering back into buildings it's gonna be very different, it's not gonna be how it was 10 months ago. So can you give us a little bit of insight into what a day will look like for the secondary students returning?


    Marty Lang - Yeah, I guess we'll start talking a little bit about what their learning will look like. A lot of our students who've been learning exclusively online will have the opportunity to come back and do a classroom and receive instruction face-to-face from a teacher in that content area. Because of the complexity of schedules at middle schools and high schools and the number of elective options that we offer. Some students will continue to Zoom synchronously with their teachers when they return to the building, but they'll do so in an environment where they can count on that connectivity and they also have additional adult supports and supervision in that room to provide some of the tutoring support around those classes to help them find success. We also have a lot of new kind of safety protocols that will be in place to make sure that that's a safe environment for staff and students to navigate when they returned to the building.


    Lisa Miller - Thank you. And for those students who are returning, we know that there's gonna be a lot of changes. So where can families go to find more information about just literally getting out the door and what they need to think through for the first time?


    Marty Lang - Yeah, no, if I was a, you know, a parent right now I think I would have a lot of questions about that. And I think it's important to really think about that before students return. So the first thing that I would direct them to is any communication coming from their student's school, right, that's always gonna be the most specific and the most timely information. So all of our middle schools and high schools are sending communications out this week to those students that they've invited back. So I would encourage parents to check their email inbox, to check the school's website for, you know, specific information. But all of our schools have also spent the last couple of quarters putting together really comprehensive health and safety plans that now live on our district website. And so any family that wants to go and review those can learn lots of information about those safety protocols. You know, everything from where do I drop off my student? Can they ride the bus? Are they gonna be fed? How are they gonna move in the halls between classes? How might a classroom environment look different? So there's a lot of detailed information on those health and safety plans. So I would really direct parents to take a good look at those. In those health and safety plans there is a link to our transportation web page. So any students who are returning on January 19th who are gonna ride the bus, I would encourage families to go to that link, type in their address and just confirm their pickup location and their pickup time. So that that's all ready to go and then there's also information in those health and safety plans about student nutrition and the meals that they'll provide for those students who are returning. And so just to touch on that briefly, we are gonna be providing a breakfast, a snack and a lunch to all those students who return and they will pick those up at the beginning of the day at a distribution site on campus when they arrive and they can consume that breakfast in their first period class, there is a dedicated snack period built into the day and there'll be a brown bag lunch that students will get in the morning as well that they can either consume during the day or because it's a little bit shorter academic day than our normal school year, they could also take home and eat in the afternoon if they're not hungry at that time.


    Lisa Miller - Okay, so lots of different little changes to the daily schedule, and it sounds like the best resources are really direct emails from your school and then we also have on the district website, it's asdk12.org/backinschool and that has links to transportation, student nutrition and the school mitigation plans that you mentioned. So all that great information can be found on our website also.


    Marty Lang - Yeah, and if you're having difficult finding an answer to a specific question through any of those resources, as always, you know, pick up the phone and call the school and we'll get you to the right person to get you an answer for that question.


    Lisa Miller - Those front desk staff are super helpful.


    Marty Lang - Yeah, and we wanna make sure that families feel prepared and they've had good conversations with their students so they know what to expect when they return.


    Lisa Miller - And then, so speaking of returning and what to expect let's talk about some different things that you might wanna bring with you. What to pack in your backpack.


    Marty Lang - Yeah, boy, it's been a long time since people have thought about sort of those school day routines, right? So a couple of reminders, right. In our health and safety plans, all staff and students will be required to wear a mask just like we are today when they come into the building. So we encourage students to find a mask that's comfortable and fits them well and that they're, you know, able to wear for the full day. On our health services webpage there's information about what masks are okay and what things may not be okay. So families have specific questions, there's lots of information there. If a student can't obtain a mask or forgets their mask the schools will also have some disposable ones on hand that kids can use during the day. So that's the number one thing that I would point to. You know, it's also important for students to think about if they've checked out a Chromebook from the district that they've been using for their online classes to make sure that they bring that with them, because there will be still some online connectivity for all of our classes, even if the majority of the instruction is face-to-face a lot of the content will still be housed in Canvas. So students will access assignments that way, they'll submit assignments that way, there might be readings and links that they're directed to. So if they have a district Chromebook, we encourage them to bring that with them. If they haven't checked out a Chromebook from the district we will have those available in the school for any student who needs one. Also encourage them to bring a water bottle. As part of our health and safety plans we've shut down a lot of the public gathering places. The things that are used by lots of different people and have high touch points, so one of those things that we've turned off is our water fountains. So we wanna make sure students can stay hydrated, so bringing a filled up water bottle each day is important. And then also if they're not gonna pick up a snack or lunch from our student nutrition department, we will have those breaks during the day built in for them to have a brain break and to eat something. So encourage them to bring, you know a snack or a lunch to consume during the day.


    Lisa Miller - So some things stay the same or snacks, you know, hydration, it's all kind of the same things but just a different way of doing it. And the masks are definitely not new, not new anymore, but-


    Marty Lang -I think most of us have grown accustomed to them being out in public, but, you know, it'll be new in the school for a lot of kids. And then, you know, having a backpack, having a bag that they can put those items in and carry with them is important too because we are not gonna be doing the lockers this year.


    Lisa Miller - Okay, that's good to know. So once they get to the building will there be a health screening on site or how will that work?


    Marty Lang - You know, we ask our staff to do a health screening when they arrive on campus each day, but we're not requiring that for students. But having said that, it is very important for parents to have conversations with their students. And, you know, thinking about that list of COVID-19 symptoms that I think a lot of us have seen in different places. If students are exhibiting any of those symptoms, no matter how mild, we really want parents to have, you know, keep their students home that day and really reduce the potential of anybody arriving on campus with COVID-19 and potentially having secondary transmissions in our schools.


    Lisa Miller - Yeah, we've been using that term, keep ASD symptom free and that's really the goal, right? Yeah, and let's talk about that health screening for parents and guardians to do at home. There's a picture of the flyer behind us, you can find this again at the ASD K-12 website but walk me through what's on there and what questions families should be asking.


    Marty Lang - All right, so you'll see that list of symptoms. And so just, you know, making sure that your student is symptom free before you send them to school. If they do have any of those, there's information about, okay, how quickly are those resolving? Is it now safe to send them back? And so just kind of walking through that process on a regular basis. And I know that, you know, teenagers, especially our high school kids, they're pretty independent. They often get themselves up in the morning, they get going, they get their own breakfast, they pack themselves out their door. They may even be driving to school. You know and they may have very little or no interaction with their parents in the morning but we are asking parents to be a little bit more engaged with them, just to make sure that they're pausing to ask these questions before they send their students to school.


    Lisa Miller - Yeah, for sure. So what about shifting gears a little bit to the other 75 students, 75% of students who are gonna remain in that online environment until the next quarter, will online learning remain the same generally for that group?


    Marty Lang - Yeah, for that group it really is going to look exactly the same as it has the last two quarters, right. Their schedule may have changed for quarter three but they're still online, they're still doing synchronous lessons four days a week from home and then they have that asynchronous Wednesday built in.


    Lisa Miller - Okay, perfect. Anything else that you wanted to add?


    Marty Lang - You know, we're using these small groups coming back in January to provide supports for a group of kids that we know really need it. We're also using this as an opportunity to start a phased approach of getting all students back in. And our hope is that after spring break fourth quarter we'll have the ability to bring all of our middle and high school students back. You know, so we're gonna learn a lot over the next couple of months, we're gonna really test our mitigation plans. We feel pretty confident in them but we will continue to tinker with them and make sure that we're providing a safe environment even in these very unique times.


    Lisa Miller - Yep, well, Marty, thank you so much for popping in to join us, I know you're super busy and good luck next week. Have a great week back to learning in-person and thank you for tuning into Airplane Arms, Navigating Back to School. All the resources that we had discussed on this episode can be found at asdk12.org.

Last Modified on January 15, 2021