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Bristol Bay Borough's school finally reopens to students after extended delays

Courtesy of Shannon Harvilla

Students and staff at the Bristol Bay Borough School have gone through a lot this year — from the trials of remote learning to attending class in fish processing facilities and churches. The school held its first classes in the building last week.

If you ask the Bristol Bay Borough school superintendent, Bill Hill, about what it means to have the school building open for classes again, one word describes it best:

“We’re all really super excited about having the students back in school," he said. "I think the students are excited, the teachers are excited, the parents are excited and the community’s excited. It’s a really great thing.”

That excitement is partly because it’s been a long wait. The school switched to remote learning at the start of the pandemic a year ago. 

Since then, it has held small classes in the cafeteria and tried to juggle a mix of remote and in-person learning. But for the most part kids have been learning from home for a year.

That’s partly because of a construction project.

Credit Courtesy of Shannon Harvilla
An empty classroom in the Bristol Bay Borough school. March 2021.

The district had planned for the renovation of the school building to end months ago. The project derailed this summer when construction crews discovered asbestos in the building and dry rot on the outside. The district intended to bring kids back after the winter holidays, but additional delays meant the school didn’t have space to hold classes and observe COVID-19 safety protocols

In February, the school worked with the community to hold in-person classes again, and although classes were not in its building, local residents came up with creative solutions.

“It just is an example of how a community can come together and make things happen," he said. "We were able to house our students in alternate facilities — churches, processing facilities, a local village corporation office. And everybody pitched in and made it happen for our kids, so we’ve been able to serve them in person for the past month.

Classes are now held in the high school section of the building — there’s still construction on the elementary wing. Hill says that will be completed this spring, and they will also install a new playground.

Principal Shannon Harvilla said it’s a big deal for the entire community.

“Everybody right now in Bristol Bay is smiling ear-to-ear because we’re back in this building. It’s very nice to see this project coming together and the kids getting what they need,” he said.

The teachers and staff have worked through many logistical challenges this year.

“We had our staff in all last weekend, moving items, setting up temporary classrooms," he said. "They had to move out of the alternate facilities. And for supervisory and oversight of education, it’s so much easier when everyone’s in the same building.”

Superintendent Hill added that there’s nothing like being back in the school.

“We’re so excited to be back in the school," he said. "I mean just the fact that we can house everybody in the same building, not have to transport lunches — have the busses pull up to the door and unload the kids. The school is just a much happier place and a much nicer place when students are here.”

School will be in session until the end of May. They’re also looking to create opportunities for extended learning this summer.

Credit Courtesy of Shannon Harvilla
The Bristol Bay Borough School reopened at the end of March, after almost a year of construction. March 2021.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

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