Parents and teachers challenged by remote learning in Fairbanks

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) Teachers, parents and students around the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District are coping with challenges from the system of remote learning brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Remote learning in Alaska has been extended by mandate until the end of the current school year. (Alex Bengel/KTVF)

Amy Gallaway, a social studies teacher at West Valley High School, said that adapting to the new system has been a learning opportunity. “I have learned a year’s worth of philosophy and skills in probably three weeks. I have had the opportunity to connect with students in a more personal way than I often do in the classroom,” she said.

Since the first week of remote learning, Gallaway has seen a drop in the number of students engaged in her class. While 65% were turning in during the first two weeks, in the third week she estimates 35% total engagement.

For Gallaway and her students, internet capacity has been a challenge. “Half of the people on my road don’t have any internet. I have one megabyte of very slow internet, so I can do basic things but I don’t have a lot of bandwidth.”

She went on to say she has contacted all three internet providers in Alaska. “Nobody could do any better for me no matter how much money I offered them,” she said.

Genevieve Perreault, a parent of three students at Pearl Creek Elementary, has also experienced difficulties due to the use of internet in remote learning. According to Perreault, the remote learning system used by her children’s school crashed in the first week due to increased simultaneous internet usage.

“I feel like we’re all just hanging in there. I think that there are benefits and trade-offs. I’m enjoying the opportunity to be at home with the kids and do fun activities when we can. We’re playing outside a lot together. We’re playing board games,” she said.

While Perreault is enjoying the time at home with her children, she emphasized the importance of the in-school education experience. She said, "No matter how many devices you have, how fast your internet is, this online learning will never replicate the value of in-person learning. My kids miss their teachers. They miss their peers. We miss having that connection to school with all of the other teachers and students."

Gallaway has gleaned some takeaways in case remote learning should ever become necessary in the future. “The most important thing to do is to reach out and connect with students, and to see if they’re okay, and to reestablish the teacher-student connection before we try and teach.”

She also sees a lesson in the problems created by remote learning in Fairbanks. "If we're going to do this in the future, then I'm just going to say this outright: internet should be a publicly regulated utility. I think this has exposed great inequities, in our community especially, but [also] across the nation. Every family needs to have access to internet --affordable internet and quality internet."

Gallaway praises her colleagues for their adaptation to the new system, saying, “School isn’t in a building, school is in relationships -- and even if students are not working for grades right now, please continue the relationship with your teachers because that relationship is where all the connection and learning happens.”

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