Monday, August 24, 2009

First Day of School!

It's here, the day is here! My first day of school as a first year teacher, and I survived! Only just barely, but I'm here and alive and feeling optimistic at this moment.

Before school started, I ran around the school taking pictures of people. Was I THAT prepared that I could afford the time to do that? No, I was not, but I preferred that to concentrating on the butterflies fluttering in my stomach.

There was a BEAUTIFUL double rainbow just before school started today! I could see it right outside my window. It actually started at the North Beach and ended on the South Beach right beside the airport. I decided to see it as a good omen.

Maybe it's too early to tell, but I think it's going to be a great year! I have a really clever class. Day One Down: So far, so good.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Day is Drawing Nearer

I know you're all very curious about what my classroom looks like now, so here it is! The room isn't exactly like I want it yet, but it's ready enough for school to start in 2 days. Bulletin boards can wait; other things cannot.

School starts on the 24th!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Coast Guard Came to Town

Life in the Bush is just north of unpredictable.

Now that inservice is over in Unalakleet, we now have site inservices at the school. It's actually nice to go to these because it means that we are now getting paid for being at the school all day. We only get paid for 8 hours a day (and spend probably 12-14 working), but such is the life of a teacher.

Today was a special day for Gambell. OPERATION ARCTIC CROSSROADS (a joint-force operation between many military services) rolled into town! I have been keeping track of this operation for some time, and they've been doing some great things in the area. Since more and more people are going to the Arctic with the gradual opening of the Northwest Passage, the Coast Guard is seeing an increasing need for more CG presence in the Alaskan North. It's always best to make friends with villages and be prepared equipment-wise before such a big implementation, so they decided to smart small check the area out a little at a time. Medical services were offered to the villages as a kind of outreach, and the whole operation concluded in a press conference with the CG Commandant in Nome. Basically, the three-week operation is made up of many different kids of (military) doctors that go to villages in the Bering Strait/Norton Sound region. Villages visited included: Koyuk, Unalakleet, Savoonga, Gambell, Shishmaref.

I actually met up with the CG in Unalakleet during New Teacher Inservice and talked with them for a bit in the road before my flight to Gambell. I made contact with the USCGC SPAR during the following days (it helps to have connections sometimes!), and so I knew exactly when the cutter was going to pull into Gambell. Myself and the other Student Council co-sponsor decided it would be nice to have students welcome this joint-force operation into the village and give them a tour (at least of the school), so I contacted the SPAR and set that up. Best laid plans . . .

Once the SPAR pulled in and anchored out just off the North Beach, Tyler (another teacher) and I drove out to the beach on a Honda and waited for them to come ashore. We knew they would need a ride, and since they were going to the school anyway it just seemed to make sense. (We also hoped to talk to the doctors about giving our athletes their physicals). We waited, and waited, and waited! It was obvious that there was trouble but we couldn't figure out what was going on.

Finally, after about 45 min of watching the Coasties stand around on deck, they finally launched a little zodiac and went zooming off to land at the worst possible place on the island. :-) It was rocky and the swells were insane, but they insisted upon landing at that spot. Unfortunately, their zodiac motor jammed three-quarters of the way into the journey and one of their paddles broke on the third stroke, so they were tossed ashore by the Bering Sea. I got a quick video of them just coming ashore and trying to figure out what in the world they were going to do next.

Getting Bullied by the Bering

A few of the villagers were also waiting for the SPAR with Tyler and I, so we all pitched in and fished the two Coasties' zodiac out of the water. We tried to attach the zodiac to a Honda, but the Honda wasn't strong enough on its own (especially with an unstable gravel foundation). As you can tell from the video, that didn't really work out so well! At that point I had to put down the camera and pitch in. Everyone that was there (including myself and Tyler) grabbed the rope, pooled our strength in with the Honda, and finally got it on the shore.

Fishing for Coasties

They realized that the SPAR's crew would not be able to come ashore . . . and they wanted off the island and back on their cutter. :-) Since their motor was jammed, the desire to go back to the SPAR brought complications. They couldn't launch from their current position, either, because of the waves and rocks. So, we did the only thing we could: we picked up the zodiac and walked it down the beach! Those things are much heavier than I would have imagined. They finally got into a better launch position and were able to paddle out past the breaking swells. The motor even started working again, and they zoomed back to the SPAR with a wave. I wish I had a video of the last half of that adventure, but I was too busy hauling around the Coast Guard's boat! By the end of this whole adventure, I was freezing cold, soaked to the skin with salt water, and ready for a warm cup of hot chocolate.

Later, they were able to get a few of the doctors on shore. Tyler and I took the veterinarian to the clinic, and she got to work vaccinating some of the village dogs soon after. Unfortunately, the SPAR's crew did not get ashore and so the tour/meeting never took place. Maybe next time! Funny thing was, the weather in Gambell wasn't even THAT bad today. Just a lot of bad luck, I guess. Apparently, they had equipment trouble in Savoonga yesterday, too.

This all took place while Tyler and I should have been in meetings. We had to go back to the meetings in the afternoon, and it was like it never happened. Life in the Bush is so crazy unpredictable! It did make me homesick for the CG though; I hope they visit again soon.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Things Change

Yesterday was a bright, clear, sunny day in Gambell (see mountain climbing post). Today . . . well, a quick video says it all. This was taken only about 8 hours after our climb.

Okay, time to get back to work.


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Climb Every Mountain

When you live in the Arctic, nice weather is not a given. Word on the street (an ironic figure of speech considering my location) is that you could count the number of sunny summer days in Gambell on one hand. Therefore when the day turns out to be clear and cool and gorgeous, you drop everything and enjoy it! The teachers have been hard at work for days getting classrooms and lesson plans in shape, but when the sun finally made an appearance in Gambell a few of us decided to ditch school. :-) So, we went the only logical place: up the mountain.

Here is the fearless mountain-climbing crew:

Sivuqaq Mountain is really a bluff, but when you sit on a base of gravel at sea level anything that rises 700 feet seems like a mountain. It's rock and tundra the whole way up so it was a nice change of ground for us. The tundra is much spongier than I imagined it to be; it's like one big memory foam mattress!

Once we got to the top, it was beautiful! Swampy in places and rocky in others, but windy everywhere. You could see all the way to Savoonga.

And of course, Russia was clear as day. We could actually see the snow on top of the Siberian mountains! The obligatory 'Pointing Towards Tomorrow' photos were taken.

We walked over to the cliffs, and saw puffins darting about! We tried to get them on camera, though the results weren't fantastic. My video camera wasn't charged unfortunately, so all I had was my still camera's video setting.

Puffin Narration

I Spy Puffins


Friday, August 14, 2009

New Teacher Inservice in UNK

Before I moved to Alaska, many people wanted to know if it was an actual school district I was teaching in. To clarify, BSSD is actually a school district in the L48 sense of the term and not a DODEA/Government-run English teaching school/BIA concoction. The similarities abound, but the differences are glaring. For instance, we have a new teacher orientation/inservice just like any other school district in the country. However, we live in bush Alaska so we have to fly to our district office for the inservice. :-) Most the Gambell staff is new this year, so the district had to charter a plane entirely for us (and the 2 or 3 Savoonga newbies). By bush plane standards, it was a big plane!

Whenever teachers visit another village overnight, usually they sleep in a classroom at the school (unless a kind-hearted teacher takes pity upon the visitor). At huge inservices, this custom is crazy! All the new teachers in the district stayed in Unalakleet classrooms on air mattresses, and walked across the hall for meetings all day. I can't even imagine the October Ed Conference when the whole district comes for meetings at the same time!

Unalakleet is a pretty village complete with trees and a huge AC (store). There's a salmon cannery and you can go fishing whenever you want . . . you could go hiking around the tundra and through the trees, or you could go four-wheeling/snowmobiling out farther should you so choose. The options are nearly limitless there, and of that I am jealous. Gambell has its own charm for sure, but it's hard not to be jealous of the outdoor opportunities in the UNK area.

Overall, we had a good time in Unalakleet. I met a lot of people face-to-face finally, and it was nice to meet a lot of new people too. I am starting to feel at home with this district already, and it feels good. Time to get back to Gambell, though, and put my new BSSD knowledge base to work. School starts in 10 days!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Dump Run of Fun

Nothing's ever simple or easy in the Arctic! Little things like waste disposal become treks across the tundra. I"m sure you all thought that Waste Management picks up our trash on Thursdays or Mondays, but that I'm afraid is false. The dump in Gambell is at the edge of the village (luckily somewhat near the edge we live on), and we have to walk our garbage there. The space is limited in Gambell, so we must burn it. It is actually a beautiful walk along the beach and tundra, and what is a nice walk without some awesome pictures?

(Story behind this photo: We (and by we I mean I) wanted a group photo, so I had to use the self-timer. I set the camera on a gravel hill, ran down the hill un-gracefully, and stepped into the shot just in time. Nothing's ever simple.)

(Gambell is one of the last villages to use walrus-skin boats for whaling. This one is dry-docked until the next whaling season.)

Playing Chicken with the Bering Sea

Now, I guarantee you that dump runs will stop being fun after the first snow. For now, though, it is nice to look at Russia and watch whales while doing something mundane as taking out the trash.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Workaholic Anonymous

I haven't been up to much exciting during the past few days; just trying to organize the mess that is my classroom. It's so bad that I only just now started to open the tubs of classroom stuff I shipped up here in June. My room was so unorganized and random that it has been a multi-day project just figuring out what is actually stored in my room. Most of the elementary school science curriculum/supplies seem to have found a home in my room, along with a pair of cross-country skis and 20lbs of rice. It's finally come to a point where I don't want to cry every time I walk in my room, and I'd say that's progress.

We have to walk 15 minutes or so to school (and back) everyday, and it wouldn't be that big of a deal if it weren't for the gravel. It takes much more energy than it should to get to school since every step you take in that gravel is worth about 5 normal steps. It's more of a trudging than a walking, though. We're all sweating by the time we get to school even though it's like 50-something degrees outside. The weather has been something else lately; foggy one second and crystal clear the next. And by the way, you've never understood the word fog until you live on St. Lawrence Island. I'm real close to keeping my work wardrobe in my classroom; there's no way I can walk to school in my dress clothes every day!

Here are a few photos from the walk to school over the past few days:

(Our Gambell Fire Station)

(View from the Post Office towards the school; it's RIGHT there, but the fog is so heavy you can't even see the building)

(The kids have made their own 4wheeler roundabout; eat your heart out, Washington DC!)