The Unalaska City School District is now in its fourth week of a mix between in-person and home-based learning. Groups of students have returned to their classrooms in the afternoons, Monday through Thursday, while working remotely in the mornings.
And while most of the district's younger students are attending afternoon in-person classes, only about a third of upperclassmen have chosen to return, according to district officials.
Christine San Luis is a high school junior. While she spends her mornings on conference calls, which she says can be rather tiresome due to faulty cell phone reception, she spends her afternoons like several other high school students: earning money at a part-time job.
San Luis works about 35 hours a week as a clerk and online shopper at the local Safeway. She's been working there for about a year now. But when the coronavirus pandemic arrived on the island and social gatherings and after-school activities became limited, San Luis decided to pick up some extra shifts.
"I was like, 'oh, I should be asking for more hours,'" San Luis said. "Because we can't do anything here — just like sit in the house."
There's not much for a teenager to do on an isolated Aleutian island during the coronavirus pandemic, especially in the winter, according to San Luis — no traveling with family, no sports, limited outdoor activities, and no parties. Asking to work extra hours was essentially a way to occupy her time.
San Luis's classmate Sam Ahsan has also been filling otherwise empty evenings with work at the supermarket.
"I wake up in the morning at 8:30 a.m. to go into my first hour [school] conference call," said Ahsan. "And then I do the second hour, then the third hour. And then my work starts around 3:30, and I get off around 9 or 10 p.m. And when I get off work, I do more homework until like 3 a.m."
Ahsan started at Safeway last month and works about 30 hours a week.
He and his family decided it would be a good idea to get an after-school job, to help contribute and make some extra money.
Ahsan said he'd prefer to be back in school and wouldn't mind attending the hybrid classes. But because he is also helping his niece and nephew with their schoolwork in the afternoons, and because he says it can be tough to find a ride, staying home just worked better for him and his family.
"To be honest, I'm not a fan of distance education," said Ahsan. "But if they had the school open early in the morning, then I would attend."
Ahsan said he is having a hard time keeping up with some of his classes. Distance learning requires a lot of extra homework, but he said balancing both work and school schedules has helped him learn to manage his time better.
Both San Luis and Ahsan said they look forward to returning to their classrooms, eventually. But in the meantime, they're just happy to have something to occupy their free time.
On Wednesday, Ahsan added that he recently returned to some in-person learning. He said he goes into the school around 8 a.m. and tries to stick around until the afternoon. On this schedule, he's at least able to get some time in the classroom. He added that, while his schedule is basically the same, he gets a little more sleep these days.