First Days of School…

Well, I’ve definitely survived my first week of teaching. In fact, it was a blast! I think I’m now officially spoiled for working in any traditional school district. My students are eager, excited to learn and except for waking up early and not being allowed pop, they actually enjoy being in school. (We’ve banned pop from the school this year… you haven’t seen pop drinking until you’ve seen village pop drinking. I had one kid tell me that he drank a 12 pack of pop the night before and he’s not all that unusual.)

Most teachers I know hate their first week. Everything goes wrong, they have classroom management problems, their kids don’t want to be there… My first day of school, I had kids asking to stay after school! Granted, I have students who are severely behind grade level, I’m ambitiously planning to help one student finish 3 levels worth of math this year and others who are nearly in the same boat, but they care! They’re here trying (for the most part)!

I have a really hard time articulating all the reasons why I’m thankful to be here, but I guess in its simplest form, it boils down to the kids. These kids aren’t like kids in the lower-48. I had soon-to-be students of mine running up to me as I went to the Post Office for mail the day before school started telling me how much they were looking forward to school. Some of that is because they wanted on the basketball court again I’m sure, but it’s true. I look at these kids as I’m teaching them and… they honestly do want to learn.

So, in celebration of such a wonderful day at school, I took a trip down to Old Siteландшафт, where the village was located until they moved it in the 1970s. Then, last night, I went swimming for the first time in the ocean. Well, technically, it was Norton Sound, but it’s close enough to count for me.

Here’s hoping the second week is as wonderful as the first!

“No, man. Alaska, Alaska.”

I wrote this for BSSD’s StraitTalk Blog but also wanted to post it here.

Six months ago, if you’d ask me what I’d be doing at the beginning of August, I would not have had an answer for you. Certainly I would not have imagined the truth. Well, that is not quite the truth… I have always dreamed of at least visiting Alaska, but if I had said I would be living here, it would have been with a jocular smile on my face. It would have been the type of smile that said, “Just kidding; I’ll probably be living in the rat race like everyone else, trying to eek out a living and pay off student loans.”

Now though, well, here I am, smiling at the memory of stepping into the Detroit airport at 5:30am on the 29th of July to board the first of four flights that would take me to my new home. Quickly covering the distance between Detroit and Las Vegas (an area I had spent 45 days earlier in the summer exploring), a short layover put me on the plane to Anchorage. Two-hundred and fifty pages later, the clouds broke and the awe-inspiring sight of the Chugach Mountains became visible through my window. Thankfully, I was met at the airport by a group of Bering Strait School District (BSSD) veterans and new teachers who were participating in this year’s Welcome Wagon event, designed to help new BSSD teachers make the transition through Anchorage and prepare for their new life away on America’s last frontier.

Two days, a cancelled flight and a side trip to Whittier later, I found myself on my third flight, bound for Unalakleet, knowing that I would be in my new home before nightfall (I beat sunset by a good six hours, arriving in Shaktoolik around 6pm.) A short layover, a trip to meet a fantastic group of people at the District Office, and a serendipitous run-in later, I boarded the smallest plane I’ve ever been on for a 15 minute flight along the shore of Norton Sound.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was back on the ground, being greeted by the few teachers at my site who hadn’t been on the plane with me. You know what though? It’s felt like home since my feet hit the dirt and still, almost three weeks later, it still does. And you know what? I’m having a wonderful time in “Alaska, Alaska.”


Back to the basics

There’s a couple of really nice things about living in the Bush that you really can’t appreciate unless you’re here. So many of the things that are taken for granted in modern society simply don’t exist here or are too expensive to justify getting them. Take bread for example. You can get bread; there’s a Wonderbread bakery in Anchorage that ships out to the Bush. However, it’s so expensive that it makes far more sense to bake your own.

So, that’s what I’ve started doing. Last night (far too late at night as it turns out), I started making my first batch of bread. A simple little white bread, nothing too special, but it turned out pretty well.

But… why is this actually one of the nice things about living in the Bush? Because it makes you truly appreciate it. Sure, it’s a hassle, but it tastes so much better than something you go pick up at the store. Life is simpler in the Bush, and while it’s sometimes more work, it’s a simpler lifestyle in so many ways; it agrees with me, it’s so much more peaceful here than anywhere else I’ve been.

Baking bread

Only in the Bush – mobile computer lab

So, I want to start a new section of my blog, that I’m going to call, “Only in the Bush”. It’s for those things which I run into and say, “Seriously? This only happens in Bush Alaska.” Today’s is specifically, “This would only happen in my school district.”

I’ve, uhmm… well I suppose some of you may think I’ve been ranting and raving about the Ed Tech department here at BSSD. They’re phenomenal, there’s no other way to say it. One of them even let me take his four wheeler into the foothills tonight. But, that’s not my moment.

Today in our training about setting up a digital Foxfire it was mentioned that the district has a mobile computer lab. We inquired a little about it and they offered to set it up and show it to us. Before I explain what it is, let me show you a couple photos I snapped (sorry about the quality, but it was my cell phone camera).

Mobile lab satellite dish


What you’re seeing is a cart that can be pulled behind a snowmachine or 4-wheeler that has a self-aiming satellite dish on it. There’s a set of cables that connects it to the a router, switch, Video Teleconference (VTC) equipment, phone for emergencies and even an Airport Extreme wireless base station.

You can haul this thing out into the bush with you, bring laptops for students to use, VTC with classrooms around the district or the lower-48 and have internet access over the equivalent of a T1. That’s actually faster than what the school sites get. It’s also used to cover the Iditarod race when it passes through the region. They set up a tent around all the routers and gear and use it as a base station to interview mushers as they pass through, stream live to the internet and even take viewer questions to ask the mushers. Talk about an amazing piece of technology built as a collaborative effort between GCI and BSSD. Oh, and if you wanted to set one of these babies up for yourself? It is a custom deal, so you’ll have to make a call to a friendly satellite internet provider.