Juneau elementary staff settle into their new teaching spaces after flood

The outside of a building
The Riverbend Elementary School is temporarily relocated to Chapel by the Lake, a church near Auke Bay in Juneau, Alaska on Jan. 21, 2022.(Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

When the Riverbend Elementary School flooded in Juneau, large fans throughout the school were on to try and dry out the wet carpet and furniture. At the time, school staff thought maybe once everything was dry, they could go back to the building. But it’s going to take a lot longer to repair the school. Three to four weeks is the current estimate. 

During the repairs, Riverbend Elementary is 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 they need to keep the school running. 

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

“Smith Hall will be where we do lunch,” Pisel-Davis said. “And kind of an indoor play time because we don’t have a playground anymore. And so we’ll have board games and reading and drawing set up for them to do after they eat their lunch.”

Pisel-Davis said the school will still be able to provide free breakfast and lunch to everyone. 

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

A hallway with one person in it
Handwritten signs made by Riverbend Elementary School students direct people to where the classrooms are at Chapel by the Lake in Juneau, Alaska on Jan. 21, 2022. The elementary school is temporarily relocated to the church as the school building is being repaired after flood damage.(Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

“Children of our staff made all these very helpful signs for us so that we could know our way around,” Pisel-Davis said.

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

“We were looking at, you know, putting a couple of classrooms, at different schools in the in the district, but it’s just such a gift to be able to stay together,” Pisel-Davis said.

The church was even OK with her turtles in the building.

“But I haven’t picked the perfect spot for them yet because my office is more of a mobile office at this point,” Pisel-Davis said.

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

“It just gives us such an opportunity to study an environment that’s different than where our school is. And to do some compare and contrast like, our school is by a river. Now our school is by a lake. What’s the same? What’s different? How come?” Pisel-Davis said.

Kindergarten teacher Lindsay Baranovic said the kids will be excited to be back together again, after over a month of being out of the classroom. 

Two women talk inside
Riverbend Elementary School kindergarten teacher Lindsay Baranovic talks with another teacher in her temporary classroom at Chapel by the Lake in Juneau, Alaska on Jan. 21, 2022. (Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

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

She said that teachers are trying to make the classrooms feel familiar to the students, but teachers also weren’t able to bring everything from their old classrooms to the new building. 

Stacked boxes
Moving boxes outside of a classroom at Chapel by the Lake, the temporary location of Riverbend Elementary School in Juneau, Alaska on Jan. 21, 2022. (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 each teacher’s approach to it was different. 

Some teachers were going to mostly work with what they had at the church, but not Baranovic.

“And then there were people like me who, you know, was I spent my two hours at Riverbend, furiously packing everything I could,” Baranovic said.

An empty, packed-up room
The Riverbend Elementary School temporary kindergarten classroom is being set up at Chapel by the Lake in Juneau, Alaska on Jan. 21, 2022. The school had to relocate to the church after two pipes burst in the school’s building, causing damage that would take weeks to repair. (Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

For her classroom, things for kids to play with was important because play is a big part of their day. For other grades, students’ belongings and textbooks took priority.

Baranovic thinks the first day back is going to feel a lot like the first day of school, especially for the younger kids. They’ll be learning new routines and navigating around a  new space.

“Our focus is really going to be on kind of honoring the 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 new for the teachers too.”

She said the younger kids, especially in the grade she teaches, kindergarten, haven’t been able to settle in much at all. That change is all they know. Some kids maybe went to some preschool in person, did preschool virtually, or didn’t have any schooling before kindergarten.

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

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

“Because that facilitates problem solving communication, provocations, self-directed learning, all of those pieces that are such key elements for students as they become learners in the real world as well,” Baranovic said.

The teachers also decided to have a theme of collaboration for the 2021-2022 school year, before any of this happened. And Baranovic said this experience has been an opportunity for them as teachers to test themselves on how to be good communicators and to think positively during a stressful time.

Previous articleHow climate researchers and Juneau composers are turning data into song
Next articleWhy rapid COVID tests aren’t more accurate and how scientists hope to improve them