Riverbend Elementary staff move into their new classrooms

Riverbend Elementary School will be temporarily relocated to Chapel by the Lake, a church near Auke Bay in Juneau, Alaska on January 21, 2022. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

When Riverbend Elementary School was flooded, large fans across the school tried to dry the wet carpet and furniture. At the time, school staff thought they might be able to return to the building once everything was dry. But it will take much longer to fix the school. The current estimate is three to four weeks.

During repairs, Riverbend Elementary will be temporarily relocated to the Chapel by the Lake Church in Auke Bay. It’s not the same, but Riverbend Elementary School principal Elizabeth Pisel-Davis said the church is able to accommodate most of what it needs to run the school.

The area at Chapel by the Lake Church where students at Riverbend Elementary School eat lunch while going to school. The school building is being repaired after a flood and the school will be temporarily relocated to the church during construction. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

“We’re going to have lunch at Smith Hall,” Pisel-Davis said. “And some kind of indoor playtime because we don’t have a playground anymore. And so we will set up board games, reading and drawing for them after they have eaten their lunch.”

Pisel-Davis said the school will continue to offer free breakfast and lunch to everyone.

There are some handwritten signs on the walls of the church directing people to the classrooms.

Handwritten signs made by students at Riverbend Elementary School direct people to where the classrooms are located on January 21, 2022 at Chapel by the Lake in Juneau, Alaska. The elementary school will be temporarily relocated to the church as the school building undergoes repairs following flood damage. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

“Our employees’ kids made all these very helpful signs for us to find our way around,” said Pisel-Davis.

When Pisel-Davis first took a tour of the church, she knew this would be the best option. They could place the classrooms of each grade level close together. And the students and staff of the school would all be in one place together.

“We’ve looked at, you know, setting up a few classrooms at different schools in the district, but it’s just a gift to be able to stay together,” Pisel-Davis said.

The church was fine even with their turtles in the building.

“But I haven’t picked the perfect location for them yet because my office is more of a mobile office right now,” said Pisel-Davis.

Staff are still trying to find solutions for other things they don’t have in their new spaces, like their playground, library, phone system, and internet. But for the most part, says Pisel-Davis, things are working, and the new location will even bring some new learning experiences.

“It just gives us the opportunity to study in an environment that is different from where our school is. And to compare and contrast something, our school is on a river. Now our school is on a lake. What’s the same? What is different? Where from?” said Pisel-Davis.

Kindergarten teacher Lindsay Baranovic said the children were happy to be back together after being away from the classroom for over a month.

Riverbend Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lindsay Baranovic speaks with another teacher in her makeshift classroom at Chapel by the Lake in Juneau, Alaska on January 21, 2022. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

“The beauty of getting back together, no matter the space, is that everyone wants to make it work,” Baranovic said. “The kids will certainly have a learning curve, but they have such a desire to be together that I think it will be fine.”

She said teachers are trying to give students a familiar feel in the classrooms, but teachers have also been unable to bring everything from their old classrooms into the new building.

Moving boxes outside of a classroom at Chapel by the Lake, the temporary site of Riverbend Elementary School in Juneau, Alaska on January 21, 2022. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

“Many, many thousands of pounds of boxes were left behind,” Baranovic said.

She said that teachers had to prioritize what to bring and that each teacher had a different approach.

Some teachers would mostly work with what they had at church, but not Baranovic.

“And then there were guys like me who, you know, spent my two hours in Riverbend wildly grabbing everything I could,” Baranovic said.

Riverbend Elementary School’s makeshift kindergarten classroom will be established on January 21, 2022 at Chapel by the Lake in Juneau, Alaska. The school had to move to the church after two pipes burst in the school building, causing damage that took weeks to repair. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

For her classroom, things for children to play with were important because play is a big part of their day. For other classes, students’ belongings and textbooks took precedence.

Baranovic believes the first day will feel like the first day of school, especially for the younger kids. You’ll learn new routines and navigate a new space.

“Our focus will really be on honoring children’s emotions as we go through this big change together,” Baranovic said. “And just letting them know that we’re all experiencing the same thing. This is also new for the teachers.”

She said the younger kids, especially in the class she teaches, in kindergarten, haven’t been able to settle in much at all. This change is all they know. Some children may have attended preschool in person, attended preschool virtually, or had no formal education prior to kindergarten.

Children’s shoes are lined up in the hallway of Chapel by the Lake as staff at Riverbend Elementary School unpack their classrooms at the church in Juneau, Alaska on January 21, 2022. The school temporarily relocated to the church when two pipes broke in the school building, causing flooding. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

So she and the other kindergarten teacher decided to focus on social and emotional learning before the start of the school year.

“Because it facilitates problem-solving communication, provocation, and self-directed learning, all of those elements that are such important elements for students as they become learners in the real world, too,” Baranovic said.

The teachers also decided to have a collaboration theme for the 2021-2022 school year before this happened. And Baranovic said that experience was an opportunity for her as a teacher to test herself on how to be good communicators and think positively at a stressful time.


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