Sunday, April 1, 2007

Old School/New School Drama

"Salt the fries"? Yuck! I rest my case about school food nutrition.... :)

So instead of trying to do a chronological log, I think I'll try to do posts by topic, and that way it might be less confusing for all of us.

So probably most of you who know me have some burning questions about the resolution of things after the burning of the school last August. Well, it's been a crazy ride, but things are mostly smoothing out now.

Students working in my old classroom -- ramshackle, but still adored and familiar.

So some backstory for folks just entering the scene: Hooper Bay School is a K-12 school, and until last August, it was a meandering complex of old and new construction, mostly falling apart but still ours. We were actually slated to have a new school this year anyway, and construction on our new school was started a couple years ago.

Skeleton of the new school under construction -- October 2005

But the new school wasn't going to be done until winter, and August 3 around 6:am the school caught on fire (officially from kids playing with matches). It was an immense, insane fire that spread through the building within seconds. There were actually a team of archeologists sleeping in the school at the time, having been doing some excavation around the village, and they were lucky to get out with their lives, all of their recently-dug up artifacts torched.

The Elementary school in an inferno, and the view from across town.

The fire spread to the houses near to the school, including teacher housing and villagers' homes; one of the town stores burned, too. It was catastrophic, and the governor declared a disaster. In a wierd twist of fate for me, personally, my house was not burned (hoorah!) but I had packed up all of the things I considered valuable, both sentimentally and monetarily, and put them in a locked cabinet in my classroom. So, while my house was Ok and I am very thankful, all of my valuable things were lost in the fire. I was compensated by FEMA for certain of those valuable things, but of course not everything was eligible. The view of the destroyed school from the living room window of my old house -- yeah, it was that close.

Our school district did not compensate us for everything we lost, but we got to put in new orders and they paid us as usual during the fall while we were not in session. I guess it was nice to have a couple months off work to be with my mom, and I did visit friends in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Seattle, and California (some who hadn't even yet met Esther!), but honestly, it was discombobulating. It felt like things were off-balance, off-kilter, almost the entire time I was out. When I got back to Hooper Bay in November, then things started to feel normal. But then more adventures were waiting.

When we arrived, none of the new housing/school was ready or open for any of us to even be in. We had six houses that had escaped the fire at the old site, and since we had been ordered back to work on November 27, by god we had to be there and cram into the old housing. For three weeks I had two roomates, and they are great folks, so it wasn't as bad as it sounds, but still, it was a little hairy. We had no water hookup for our houses after the fire, so they put up a pump house (right smack in front of the only window I had left in the trailer) that would pump water to all the remaining houses if someone would go get water in a big tank in the back of a truck several times a day and pump that water into the pump house tank. Of course, nothing can ever be easy.
The water guy filling up our pump station tank,right outside my trailer window,Dec 2006
We finally were allowed into the new school, under pressure to start school as soon as possible, and lacking students or supplies or even furniture, for that matter, we were put to work hauling boxes and boxes and boxes for a week -- all the stuff that had been ordered to replace what we lost.
Our first days back to work: hauling hallways full of boxes. As soon as we would clear them away, it would fill back up again.

My new classroom as it was about a week before we had students in school.

It was a little crazy. Then once we actually got into our classrooms, we started realizing how absolutely awesome our new building is: tons of technology, from projectors on the cieling that plug into our computers to "audio-enhancement", in which I can wear a wireless mike around my neck and my voice is projected to speakers around the room -- not having to raise my voice is worth a million bucks. Of course, there was no time and no one to train us on any of our new technology or other features of our classrooms, and not everyone's worked. There were also no locks, not anywhere in the school. So much for security! But things started coming together.

We finally started school with students on December 11.

The first day of school in our new classroom, with my 6th grade homeroom students.

After all that wildness, I finally got a great surprise: I actually had a great group of 6th & 7th graders for my reading & writing classes, and I found teaching infinitely easier than it had been the previous three years I'd taught. Amazing! Magic! One good, great thing to come out of all this year's trials. I finally understood what had drawn me to teaching; it's not something I dread waking up to, anymore.

However, this was not the end of the elemental insanity. We had fire, right, and so now the powers that be deemed that we needed to balance things out with water. On New Year's Eve early morning, a huge water main burst in the second floor of the school and pumped a deluge of water into our new classrooms, decimating several of them, several of the new teachers' new classrooms, all books, computers, files, everything lost. Deja Vu. I escaped this one, too, and am very thankful for that, but feel very badly for those teachers whose classrooms were leveled. So we were out of work for another week at that point.

Teacher housing was yet to come. None of it was finished until after Christmas, and even those houses done didn't have running water until early to mid-January. I ended up moving over right after Christmas to a new house I had to use a honey-bucket in. But the house is nice, fancy, new -- a two-story, narrow house with three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.
This is my housing unit -- four houses inside this one. My porch is the far one from this vantage point, and my house is the middle right one. The school is very close -- maybe a hundred yards off to the right of where I'm standing in this picture (though I'm not a good judge of distance, but it's close. I can leave home at 8:27 am if I need to be at work at 8:30 am. Yes! One of the perks of rural Alaskan life: No commute!).

Although I would just as soon live in a rudimentary log cabin or (even better) a modernized sod house, I do feel lucky to have such fancy digs. Even though it's incongruous with the landscape and the lifestyle of the village and tundra, it certainly is more convenient and easier to live in a place like this, especially since, as I'm trying to be a career mom, I don't have so much time to do the subsistence things that would be necessary in a house that fit this landscape better. And it is certainly fancy by village standards, (heck, even by last year's teacher housing standards!)and most visitors I have are slightly amazed by the size and newness of the place. So I have no complaints.

The kitchen (very important to me!) is nice and big with lots of cabinet space. It even has a dishwasher, a luxury I thought I would never know in my adult life, and something I thought was way beyond bush Alaska! The living room is large enough for a big dining table, and though there's only one window in the downstairs, it lets in a lot of light, since it's a southern-ish exposure. I got water on January 10, and I got my phone hooked up on the 12th. It started to feel for real, and now that I'm 95% unpacked, it feels like a home.

Esther hangin' with her bananna in our new fancy kitchen.

Esther tickling Odin's belly in the living room of our new house.

Esther and her close cousin Sheila, playing on our sunny living room couch.

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