'We're Trying To Give Them Some Sense Of Normalcy:' Unalaska Teachers Address Home-Based Learning

Jan 19, 2021

Remote education has been a challenge for many teachers and families, especially recently, as the district shifted to in-person learning and back out again, all within about one week.
Credit Laura Kraegel/KUCB

 

Since the beginning of December, Unalaska students have been in their classrooms for a total of just three days. They've spent the rest of that time learning from their homes.

Remote education has been a challenge for many teachers and families, especially recently, as the district shifted to in-person learning and back out again, all within about one week. 

And for those parents who are also teachers — while it may seem they have an advantage to teaching their children at home — it's also been a very bumpy road.

"My fourth grader is doing things that I'm just not 100 percent confident with,"  said first grade teacher Mallery McEldery. "So that's hard. And I guess as a teacher, I have an advantage there, but with kids in different grade levels, it's tough trying to manage all their work and not to exhaust them with it."

McEldery has six school-aged children, and while she tries to keep them all on schedule, she said shifting from home-based to in-person learning can be exhausting, especially as the district struggles to make definitive plans for what the rest of the semester will look like

"The kids have a little bit of anxiety just because they don't know [what will happen next]," said McEldery. "So we're trying to reassure them that we might be able to go back to school — but we just don't know yet. We're trying to give them some sense of normalcy and consistency, even if it is just week to week." 

While it may not be sustainable, according to McEldery, her family's strategy is to avoid looking too far ahead.

Amy Purevsuren works with fifth through 12th graders, teaching English and ELL courses,  and echoes McEldery, saying it has been tough rearranging schedules and shifting plans.

But it's working out for her and her husband, who's been able to stay home with their three kids to help with homeschool and projects around the house, she said. 

"If he wasn't able to do that, it would be very difficult," said Purevsuren. "But the way that we've worked it out, the kids are actually pretty happy being with their dad. And we have an outdoor wonderland. They can go sledding and skiing and have recess outside." 

But, according to Purevsuren, her family is lucky. Not everyone has been able to make such accommodations.

"I know that a lot of people have had to really change their lives around much more than we have to make it work," she said.

McEldery has similar concerns for families in the district. While her family is also fortunate to have a parent home with the kids, she said, not everyone can do that, and she worries about the longer term effects.

"As a parent and a teacher, moving kids forward is so important," said McEldery. "And I worry about that, maybe not specifically with my own kids, but other families. We're very fortunate that I can be with them. But that's not the case in other families. And I don't think [home-based education] is a long-term solution. If there's something else that we could do better, I think we need to do that.” 

McEldery said the situation is complicated and she isn't certain what the solution is.

"I would love to have my students back in school and see them face-to-face," said McEldery. "I, of course, want everyone to be safe. And so I think it's important we listen to all perspectives and really think through this and see what we could do to maybe give people choices. But as a teacher, I miss my students — it's hard."

The School Board plans to discuss possible changes to the district's Smart Start 2020 plan, as well as the possibility of allowing students to return to in-person learning at its meeting Wednesday night.