Friday, May 7, 2010

Another Year Ends

One more year has come to a close on the North Slope. Today was our last day of school and as we said good bye to the students for the summer, I thought about how much they have grown over the past two years that I have been at this school. I feel so lucky to be a part of their lives and also to have had this opportunity to be a part of such a unique community.

Next year will bring about many changes to our school. Our principal for the past two years is leaving us to begin her retirement and that will be very difficult for most of us. She has definitely effected the way that I developed as a teacher since she has really helped guide me in the early years of my career. We do welcome our in-coming principal and are all excited to see what she will bring to our school.

There is also quite a bit of moving around happening in our school. Next year I will once again go back to teaching a 6th/7th grade self-contained classroom. This rowdy group of 13 should be quite fun as I have had the same crew for this past year. Neal, my fiancee, will also be changing his teaching assignment to cover the kindergarten/first grade classroom. He will have quite the group tots that should be loads of entertainment for us all. We're both very excited to be returning next year to work with these kids.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cultural Connections

Yes, I know I'm a slacker and haven't posted in a few months. I'll try to do better.

Today, we had an inservice where we were "adopted" by members of the community. It was a great way to get a first hand look at the history of our village and learn more about the Inupiat culture. We were taken in by two members of the community, both who are very active in the church and try to pass on values they find important to the younger generations. It was a really interesting way to learn more about the community we are living in.

One of the people who adopted the teachers today is an 82 year old guitar playing, ulu making man. Mr. Johnny Nayukok had started working around this village when he was a young man, driving coal from out of the mines to Barrow. He has never had any formal schooling and doesn't speak English. Our home-school facilitator was there to translate for us and listening to him speak was amazing. I think that it is so important that there are elders like himself that still speak the Inupiaq language and can pass on to his children and grand-children this language.

The two hours that we spent learning about the community and looking at pictures of the history of our village was a great way to get involved with the people around us.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Great Escape

This past weekend, Neal and I made a trip to Fairbanks for a much needed break. Packing two barely filled suitcases, we celebrated Eben Hopson's birthday, which has become Inuit day, by boarding the Thursday night flight to Barrow, continuing onto Fairbanks.

It was a really great time and we came back with much more than we had anticipated. We even needed to make one last run to Wal-Mart to buy another duffel bag. The whole experience was really great, but after living in a village you start to have a little sensory overload after the third day in a bustling town like Fairbanks.

We visited Chena Hot Springs, and to anyone who hasn't made that trip before, I highly recommend it. Sitting in the water, taking in the beautiful sights and complete quiet is absolutely amazing. The water was 107 degrees near the entrance to it and as high as 115 degrees in other places. Truly a relaxing time.

The one downfall to this escape to the "big city" was the return trip home. I have come to find Fairbanks airport a serious inconvenience. I'm not sure if anyone else has had the same experience as me, but I have found the TSA agents there to have quite a superiority complex and way too much free time. Every time I have passed through that security checkpoint I have been pulled aside for some reason or another. Yes, I'll admit that I am somewhat absent minded, but seriously, what the heck. This time I did forget that I had purchased an ulu while visiting Santa's Workshop at North Pole. It was still completely in its packaging, tightly wrapped up. After going through security they pulled me aside, having to go through all my bags, remove items purchased from their packaging (even things they honestly didn't need to, like a Santa doll), and generally tick me off. I sent Neal off in search of an envelope so we could mail the ulu back to us and we were finally set free 15 minutes later. After that fiasco, I figured we were home free for the flight home. Boy, was I wrong. The next few hours passed with no issues and we made our way to the gate when it was nearing the time to board the plane. So did about eight TSA agents. Announcements were made, people made their way to the lines, and Neal and I made our way to join them. We were actually very close to the front of the 15 person long line, but as I reach the ticket agent, I was asked by one security man to show him my boarding pass and I.D. as part of a "random security check." Of course, I had put away my I.D. since you don't need to show it again most anywhere else. I needed to step out of line, dig through my back pack, and show the jerk my stuff. Irritation!!! It wouldn't be such a big deal if they wouldn't say it's a "random check." Just tell me that I'm on the list, or pick on someone else for a while. I was the only person to be picked out of the line, most of them we there when I was pulled out the first time, and there really aren't that many people at the Fairbanks airport. Seriously folks, get it together.

In the end we did make it safely back to Barrow last night and all was fine, but I have determined not to return to the Fairbanks airport if there is any way around it. I hope this is happening to more people than just me and that someone else agrees that the security measures are a little extreme. At least I had a relaxing weekend to prep me for that travel experience.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Update

Much has been happening on the North Slope since the last blog. We've had a wonderful visit from our new superintendent, Peggy Cowan, and classes have resumed fully. Snow came to us in the second week of September and we haven't been out of the 20's for a couple weeks. Last weekend the river and lake both froze over and, to our surprise, many of the villagers were ice fishing. It's not like the river has been frozen long either. It is probably about an inch thick, no more than 2 in most places, but people still venture out to catch their dinners. We've even seen a 4-wheeler or two out on the thin ice.

We also have had the pleasure of hosting two teachers from Scotland. Last year, our school began a partnership with schools in Scotland because of their similarities to our rural lifestyle. Our students learned Scottish dances, and our Scottish friends got a taste of what rural life really is.

Another big event on the tundra, that really took place on the tundra, was our engagement. Neal proposed on September 5th while out for a walk along the river. It was a beautiful day and we were both glad to share this experience together in the Arctic.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another Year Begins

It's the first day of school and excited face dot the halls around Meade River School. I've had the constant banging on my door for the past two weeks from kids ready for a new year to begin.

With a new year comes new teachers, friends, and something more to do for the students. I was lucky enough to be the female chaperone for the football tournament in Barrow this past weekend. We took fourteen students, six of which were girls. And boy, could they ever take down those boys. Despite the crummy weather (40 degrees and pouring down rain), I stood on the sidelines and cheered those kids on. It was a great thing to watch and even though we lost, the score was very close, 47-55.

They had a chance to play again the next day against the smallest school in our disctrict, Kaktovik. The Rams only had seven players on their team and had to take sixth graders just to have that many players. I was really impressed at the great sportmanship our students showed to that other team. There definitely was the cocky attitude that the team we had played the night before showed and when a player from Kaktovik was injured, we sent in some of our players to take their spot. Angela, the one chosen to play for the Rams from our team, showed no mercy toward her own team, playing to her fullest and even taking out our quarterback. It was great to see her play her all, even if it was going to cost her own team points.

I'm glad to be back at a school where everyone is a team. The feeling of being so close-knit makes a person really feel like they belong. You can see it in the kids too. They know the importance of being honest and lending a helping hand. I'm really looking forward to being back here for another year and ready for it to begin.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Great Return

It's been two wonderful months back in the lower 48, but I'm now back in Atqasuk ready for another year. This time I have returned with Neal, my boyfriend who will be teaching third grade, and a kitten, Izzy.

The trip up was fantastic. Neal and I spent three days in Anchorage, taking one of those days to take a trip down to Seward for a glacier cruise. As we took the two and a half hour drive down there, I was having thoughts that this might not have been an ideal day for a cruise. It was raining, dark, and windy. In Seward, we were told the boat may only do half of its cruise for the day because of the weather. I was okay with that if it meant I wouldn't be sea-sick for six hours straight.

We boarded the boat and headed out into the ocean. Some of the waves not far from our boat looked to be six feet high. I could already feel the nausea coming on, especially since they served lunch right before we got out into the open and the really choppy water. After that I spent most of my time sitting outside at the back of the boat. I'm really glad I did.

The trip was truly amazing. I've never seen that much wildlife before. We saw a herd of resident orcas, those that live nearest the land and stay there. They were coming up constantly and we even saw one breach, where it jumped completely out of the water. It was very neat. We also saw many porpoises, sea lions, puffins, murres, and even a few harbor seals. They looked just like Mom's dog Pierre, lounging around on the rocks.

Although we saw many animals, the hands-down, most awe-inspiring thing was the humpback whales. There were two whales playing around right near our boat. They kept surfacing and showing their flukes. Typically when a whale shows its fluke, it means that it's going for a deep dive and you won't see it again for a while. This whale was just putting on a show. It kept coming right back up. I've never seen anything that incredible in my life. It made me think of Grandma Bell the whole time we were there.

Rough seas and all, it was a great trip and I'm happy we got a chance to go before heading up to the village.

Neal is in Barrow for a week, doing a new hire inservice, so I have a whole week to get things organized before school starts. The first day we have kids isn't until the 19th, and there is plenty of time to get things in order.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Nearing the end

I'm sitting in a beautiful hotel in downtown Anchorage on my last trip out of the village for this school year. I was lucky enough to be able to come down here for the past two weekends for class and it's been amazing weather. Sunny and warm, it was a welcome relief from the chilly winter we've had.

We're down to the final three weeks of school. Kids are already starting to check out. The sun is up for the full 24 hours now and children don't go to bed anymore. You can hear them playing and running around the village at four in the morning. Definitely makes for some interesting discipline issues.

This year I have been back and forth on my decision to return next school year, but a few weeks ago I got a wonderful bit of news that firmed up my decision. Neal, my boyfriend, got a job teaching third grade at my school. I'm super excited to be able to stay up here because I have made some excellent connections with the community and students. It will for sure put a better spin on things for next year. It's also exciting to be experiencing this with someone else. It will be a great year.