For this Anchorage high school student, returning to the classroom can’t come soon enough

A girl stands for a photo in winter in front of her high school building
Sarah Price, a junior at Eagle River High School in Anchorage, Alaska, stands outside Eagle River High School on February 3, 2021. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

High school students will return to classrooms in Anchorage later this month after more than a year of online learning. And perhaps no one is more excited about that than Eagle River junior Sarah Price.

Related: Fears dissipate, horizons expand after one month of in-person learning in Anchorage classroom

Price is an AP student, she’s in Junior ROTC and working on a private pilot’s license.

And for nearly five months, she’s been testifying at nearly every school board meeting, asking the board and district officials to let high school students return to school.

A recent testimony from Sarah Price about bringing high school students back for in-person learning.

“Choosing to keep students out of school knowing what they must endure alone. Simply because you are afraid of what Someone may say is despicable. It is time to be honest with our community. Enough is enough. Send us back to school,” she said recently during the Feb 2, 2021 school board meeting.

Like teachers and parents, students have a variety of opinions on distance-learning and the school reopening debate. But many students don’t share their opinions about whether or not it’s been working as passionately and frequently as Price has.

Price is firmly in the ‘not-working’ camp.

“Not only have failure rates doubled. Not only is absenteeism shocking, not only has there been discrimination, but children are suffering,” she said at the Feb. meeting

School Board Member Starr Marsett said she’s talked with Price one-on-one and encourages her advocacy. Still, it’s been tough being on the receiving end of testimony like Price’s she said.

“Do I think we failed our students? I think we’ve tried to do the best that we could,” Marsett said. “I wish we could have done things differently. But I think, given the circumstances, our hands were tied.”

High school students are returning to the classroom. But the return date was originally supposed to be in January, the start of the second semester. Now the return date is March 15th, just nine weeks before the school year ends. That’s a full-year after school buildings abruptly closed due to the pandemic.

Price said the date change compelled her to begin testifying in late September last year and she’s made her case at nearly every school board meeting since then.

“I saw students just give up,” Price said. “I, myself, said ‘what’s the point of doing this homework, if in the end, we’re not going to go back to school, we’re not going to get to see these teachers, we’re not going to laugh in the hallways again?’ It was the hope that was taken away.”

When the district presented its current reopening plan some school board members did ask to speed up the timetable for high school students to return, and Price acknowledges some members did support a swifter reopening plan.

Price has testified over and over again about the negative impact school closure has had on students even though she’s been able to keep her grades up. Price hopes to be valedictorian of her class.

A girl stands at the top of a staircase next to a wall that has a crest on it and an American flag and Alaska state flag crossed beneath it
Sarah Price stands at the top of a staircase inside Eagle River High School in Anchorage, Alaska on February 3, 2021. ERHS has been mostly empty of students since buildings closed March 2020. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

“Sarah could do well without a teacher,” said Price’s history teacher Katherine Campbell.

“But she wants a first class education and she knows she’s not getting it,” Campbell said. “She’s willing to work hard to make up and do whatever she needs to do, but that’s not fair and she knows it’s not fair.”

Campbell has also been advocating, along with Price, for students to return to in-person learning. Campbell said she’s struggled to engage her students, and many of them are frustrated by the virtual environment.

“They’re depressed. They’re miserable,” Campbell said. “They do everything I tell him to do, but they don’t… they’re just… it’s hard for them to engage.”

Campbell describes Price as a strong advocate for her classmates and said Price does all of her own research.

Price said she spends her free time arming herself with news reports, reading studies and looking up Alaska statues to cite during her testimony. She’s also appeared at Anchorage Assembly meetings, even testifying at an Alaska Senate Judiciary meeting.

Price said she identifies as a conservative but is interested in other perspectives.

“It’s one of my favorite topics, political philosophy and political science, because I’m fascinated by how people make their opinions, how people make their own personal beliefs,” Price said.

Price sees herself as a spokesperson for students. And she has plans to continue on this path: first going to college, then joining the military, “and after that, I hope to become a lawyer. After that, I hope to join public office and make our community better,” Price said. “So, I’m very excited for my future.”

But for now, Price said she and her friends are just eager to get back to the activities that make high school fun.

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