Gruening News

March 24, 2021

In this edition:



We have been so happy to see our students back in the building this month. Congratulations to all of our students for a great first week. Keep up the great work everyone, and finish strong!


In the world of understatements, I can say this past year has thrown us all for a loop. Not one of us has not be impacted by Covid this past year. We can use all the clichés of how unprecedented it was, but nothing could have prepared us for the loss, grief, trauma, isolation, and change we have all experienced. As adults, we are somewhat able to compartmentalize our lives and attempt to shield our own stress and anxiety. Most kids are not able to.

Returning to school has been stressful. There is no way to sugar coat this. Students reported to me last week that although happy to see their friends, they were overwhelmed by the noise, movement, mask wearing, transitions, and Covid mitigation that still keeps them distanced from their friends.

They are also used to being at home with their parents, doing classes via Zoom without their camera on, not worrying about what they had to wear to school., not having to worry about peer pressure, bullying, etc. They are out of their routine. Yes. Even middle school students are experiencing separation anxiety. They have left their “safe harbor”. Last week, we saw an uptick in reported anxiety, depression and self-harm. Although not unexpected by some, others were caught off guard by the response

Going back to school is a good thing, right? In some cases, kids resisted going back to school because the quarantine was actually a lot easier for them than going to school. Especially those kids with social anxiety or who were bullied or kids with learning disorders. Being at home was in many ways a lot easier than coming to school .

So how do we recognize if there is a problem and what do we do?

An important piece to keep in mind that most kids are quite resilient. They adapted to the change thrown at them after Spring Break last year and will adapt again to the current stressors of returning to school. Kids respond to how they see others responding. Keep in mind that anxiety can be contagious and we need to keep ourselves calm as we transition back to school. If you lead with your anxiety, you will fuel anxiety.

  • Watch for unusual irritability, aggressiveness, nightmares, withdrawal. They might have sleeping or eating disturbances, agitation, increase conflicts and physical complaints. They might want to avoid school and social activities.
  • Encourage your child to practice coping skills such as deep breathing, music, exercise, journaling, art.
  • Encourage them to talk about their emotions and how those emotions can impact behaviors. If your child is telling you they are worried (scared, angry, frustrated, lonely, overwhelmed, sad, stressed), validate those feelings and let them know they have your attention (and time) to express that.
  • Focus on something that is positive in their life, providing hope and future thinking. “We adjusted when everything shut down, we can readjust as we open back up”
  • Establish and maintain routines once home from school. Taking off the mask, having a snack, changing out of school clothes and finding a place to start homework.

Know when your concerns about your child are escalating as the parent/guardian. If they begin to impact daily functioning, reach out to your pediatrician, mental health provider or school counselors. If you don’t have a mental health provider, we have a list of local mental health providers that we would be happy to send your family.

One in five children will experience clinical levels of anxiety and depression by the time they reach adolescence (National Institute of Mental Health). And Alaska still (sadly) leads the country for death by suicide. Suicide is the 2nd leading of cause of death in the United State (Youth Mental Health First Aid, 2017).

We take all comments about depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal ideation very seriously. At school, we may see behaviors that you might not see at home. We will be reaching out to you if we are concerned about your child and we certainly hope you reach out to us.

We wish you and your family all the best in the coming weeks.

Dr. Pat Sloan PsyD

Ms. Tirzah Fullmer MS

If you or someone you know is in crisis, text CARE4U to 741-741

or call the National Suicide Hotline at: 1 800 273-talk (8255)

or call 911 immediately!


Fitzgerald Photography will be taking school portraits March 25th and 26th.

Parents will be sent a link to order photos after photos are taken.

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if your student has been checking out a Chromebook from the school for daytime use:

Contact ASAP to request a Chromebook from ASD.


Thank you for transitioning to the front entrance of Chugiak for on-time pickup/drop-off.

This has greatly helped with providing safe pickup/drop-off for out special education busses.

Please continue to call the office at 907-742-3600 if you wish to pickup your student early.

LATE ARRIVALS: we now have a doorbell at the cafeteria entrance to ring for late arrivals.


Sports and activities started this week!

Email any paperwork to Activities Administrative Assistant


  • First come, First serve... so get your spot ASAP
  • There are NO fees for intramural sports
  • Activities bussing will be provided

3 things you need to participate:

  1. Sports Physical Form- Click to open PDF
  2. Activity Participation Form- Click here to access (one participation form per activity)
  3. COVID -19 Form- Click here to access

March 22nd- April 16th

  • Co-Ed Basketball
  • XC- Skiing/Running
  • Art Activities
  • After-School Tutoring

April 19th - May 14th

  • Co-Ed Volleyball
  • Track and Field
  • Mountain Biking (Student supplies own bike)
  • Art Activities
  • After-School Tutoring


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One of my favorite evenings of the school year is the Excellence in Education Awards ceremony which was last evening, Tuesday, March 24. The Excellence in Education Awards is an annual Chugiak Eagle River Chamber of Commerce event where each of the eleven Chugiak-Eagle River schools selects one staff member to recognize their commitment to educational excellence in our community.

The event last year was cancelled due to the outbreak of COVID-19, so we recognized recipients from the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years last night. I want to share with our Gruening families which Gruening teachers I selected for these prestigious awards.

The award winner for the 2019-2020 school year was Emily Joyce, Gruening’s orchestra teacher. Here is part of the narrative I submitted for Ms. Joyce, “Ms. Joyce has contributed to the success of Gruening’s music program for several years. A well-rounded education of a middle school student should include a vibrant electives program, including music opportunities. Gruening has always valued elective offerings for its students, and Ms. Joyce has created one of the most respected and admired orchestra programs in the entire Anchorage School District. The Chugiak/Eagle River community should be proud of the music offerings available to students at all levels-elementary, middle, and high school level.”

I also want to share with you this quote from cellist Yo-Yo Ma regarding the importance of music education in our schools, “Music enhances the education of our children by helping them to make connections and broadening the depth with which they think and feel. If we are to hope for a society of culturally literate people, music must be a vital part of our children's education.”

The award winner from Gruening for the 2020-2021 school year is Wendy Jacobsen. Ms. Jacobsen is the math and science teacher on our two-person Kenai team. A parent of one of Ms. Jacobsen’s students had this to share about Wendy, “I appreciate how open and kind Mrs. Jacobsen is when she is interacting with her 7th grade class. My daughter has her for Math and Science and I have been able to see the progress she is making with Mrs. Jacobsen as her teacher. Mrs. Jacobsen is always upbeat and enthusiastic during her class ZOOMS making all of her students feel welcomed.” I further stated the following regarding Ms. Jacobsen, “Wendy, you epitomize what this award is about, true excellence as an educator of young people. As the principal of our building, I greatly appreciate all that you do for our school.”

It is a great honor two recognize these two outstanding educators on the Gruening Middle School teaching staff. These are two of the many outstanding and talented teachers I have the honor and privilege to work with every day.

Bobby Jefts


Gruening Middle School


Spring is around the corner and that means seasonal allergies are going to start kicking up. If your child has seasonal allergies, please update their health history to reflect it to prevent exclusion due to allergy symptoms.

There is a Health History form that needs to be updated. Also, Over-the-counter allergy medication can be given at school if parent provides it.

Nurse Angie

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Gruening Middle School

Gruening Middle’s staff and students strive to be responsible and cooperative members of a community where achievement is valued along with hard work and civic engagement. Our core values are community, achievement, responsibility, working hard and cooperation.