Our next destination!

Ben and I are very excited to announce that we will be headed back to Alaska in August! We signed a contract to work for Lake and Peninsula School District and are headed to Pilot Point, Alaska. It’s just above the Aleutian Islands. Pilot Point (PIP) is going to be a lot different then my experience in Stebbins, which makes me evenpilot_point_mapmore excited!! A few things that will be different include the following:

  1. Population: Stebbins – around 500, PIP – around 70
  2. Students: K-12 Stebbins- 150, PIP- 14.
  3. Teaching styles: Stebbins, guided teaching a lot like we have here in Idaho, PIP- Standards based teaching, which is not teaching by grade level but instead where they are in the standards, and they are graded on their mastery level of the standard. Which is completely new for me but I’m very excited to learn and figure it out. 
  4. Weather : Stebbins- highs of 60 lows -40 with windchill factor Plus lots of snow and ice, Pilot Point- highs around 70, lows in the teens.

 

Most importantly: Ben will be with me in PIP!!! It’s going to be so amazing to have him there with me! I honestly don’t think I would be able to go to Alaska alone again for the entire school year. 3 months was hard not having Ben there with me. Ben will also be working. The school year has offered him a full time job as well which was one of my main priorities when signing to a new school district. There were several things that I “wanted” when I was looking at new schools and school districts but always at the top of the list was being able to go to a place where Ben could work for the school, or work in the community. I just knew that no matter how great it would be to experience Alaska together, if he wasn’t working he would be going insane with in a few months. There’s only so much you can do in a Bush Village. We also will be taking Zoey and Bella (our dogs, lab & pug), which I’m excited about too! I’ll admit I’m very nervous about them flying and how we are going to arrange everything but I think it will be great in the long run! So there you have it! There is our new home!

 

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Leaving Stebbins-A pretty great island

IMG_3188[1]Before coming to Stebbins I nerded out on anything I could find about this small village that was about to become my home. I’ll admit not everything I found was peaches and cream. I knew the area I was going to wouldn’t be anything like any place I’ve ever been. I knew that going into it that alcohol and drugs were largely impacting a small community. I knew that many of the students would have un-diagnosed cases of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. As I was making my journey to Stebbins I got many different reactions when people would as me where I was headed. From everything to “Where is that?” to “Oh wow, brave girl.” So I’ll admit that I was nervous. Meeting the amazing people from my last post helped me push that nervousness down a little but when it came to the community, I have to say I was kind of scared.  I was nervous to walk around the village on my own, I didn’t know what might happen to me if I was out alone.

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This is some graffiti as soon as you come into town….it’s kinda a Stebbins monument haha

So the first week I jumped right into working at the school. We  had a basketball game the first weekend and I signed up to work at it. I started to introduce myself to members of the community, and with every basketball game I got to know more and more of them. They were just as curious about who I was as I was about them.

The students were excited for  new face and constantly asked if I was Raynas sister (she’s blonde) then Catera’s sister (according to them we have the same head haha). They asked me questions about why I was there, where I was from, and they asked all about my life back in Idaho. They wanted to know everything about me. After my first few weeks pretty close to every student 5th and below knew my name and everything about me. The students and I started to develop some pretty strong bonds and every week they won a piece of my heart more and more. 

Suddenly it dawned on me, all my fears and worries were crazy! Now I’m not saying  Stebbins is a perfect village and there are no problems what’s so ever but it’s honestly not as scary as so many websites and people made me think it was going to be. In fact, they are pretty amazing! Once you realize what the village has been through and what they are still dealing with, you realize just how strong of a community they are. While at one time I looked at the village and saw high poverty and run down homes, I now see a village that stands together and tries to take care of their families the best way they know how.

Not to mention the beauty of the island. I can’t count the number of times that I literally stopped everything I was doing because the views took my breath away! I thanked God so many times for the opportunity I was given. I thank BSSD for giving me the opportunity to come here and be a part of this amazing experience.

Leaving Stebbins was very hard. When I decided to take the job in Pilot Point (post coming on that) it wasn’t an easy choice. I fought back and forth about what would be the best choice. My heart often fought with my brain, love over logic.  The winning factor was work for Ben, something Stebbins couldn’t promise, but Pilot Point did. Today, my last day in Stebbins, I took a walk on the beach and I just took in everything that I have gained by being here. The silence of the village, the crisp clean scent of the air, the views of everything around me, it was just a moment of pure tranquility.  If it wasn’t for Ben being so far away from me, I don’t think I would have gone home yet. I know for sure that Ben and I will be coming up to visit! I’m hoping that we can make it to Potlatch this next year, I know that I’ll have student dancing in it again and I’m excited to be a part of it again!

Until I see you again Stebbins!

Leaving Stebbins-More than just coworkers

IMG_3188[1]This week has been such a mix of emotions. I never expected a small village to have such a big effect on me as Stebbins did. My outlook on life and teaching will be forever changed. Not only am I completely thankful for the experiences that I have been able to have in my life but I will be forever thankful for the people that have come into my life, thanks to these experiences. It’s so hard to express how the people in Stebbins have and will always mean to me. It’s not very often that you can only know someone for 3 months but feel like they’ve been your friends for a lifetime. From the moment I arrived in Anchorage, to today when I flew out, I knew that they would be in my life forever.

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My first encounter in Anchorage beginning with Sarah S (counselor) and Robyn (St. Michael teacher), I honestly feel what tore down those walls of awkwardness that you have when you meet someone new was my complete breakdown in my hotel room. We had just finished a shopping trip to Costco, I had my groceries and my totes. Standing in my room trying to figure out how to pack everything (it’s not as easy to figure out on your own the first time). What goes on the plane with me? What do I mail? How do I keep the frozen-frozen, and the cold stuff not frozen? What weight does it have to be? What do I do with my luggage if I’m bringing the tote of food as luggage? I text so many questions that finally the reply was “Do you just need us to come down there and help you?” YES!!! I was so thankful I had these ladies! I don’t know what I would have done without them!! I seriously probably called BSSD and asked to go home. I literally thought to myself “I can’t do this, what am I thinking?” I know kind of crazy thoughts over just packing food and such but it was just the straw on a scary adventure I was doing on my own. As soon as Sarah and Robyn came to my rescue it was an immediate calm. Of course not till I cried and freaked out. They will never know how much their words helped me realize I could do this! All they told me was not to worry, they had been in my shoes once before, and they would help me with everything, we could do this. Then the calm set in and I knew from that moment on that I was doing the right thing. This is where I was supposed to be at the exact moment.

IMG_2837[1]IMG_2841[1]IMG_2843[1]Arriving in Stebbins was slightly a train wreck as well but I wasn’t as stressed because I knew everything would work out now, after all I was here and I knew they wouldn’t leave me in the streets. When I first got there my house wasn’t ready and they were asking a couple of the teachers if I could stay with them until it was ready.    Little did I know how close we would become in just a matter of weeks. Enter Rayna and Catera. These girls were soon not only going to be my friends but pretty much family while in Stebbins. They not only let me stay with them but they were wonderful and we had so much in common. Even after moving into my own house, if I wasn’t home you could find me at their house. We cooked dinners together, binged on movie watching, spent weekends not getting dressed all weekend and eating junk food, it was honestly like I never moved out. On the occasional weekend that I didn’t go to their house we seemed to always talk on Monday about how weird it was not hanging out, and it usually resulted in dinner that night. It was honestly crazy how much we had in common. We all broke out in song at the most craziest moments, and couldn’t get through a movie or TV show without researching what other shows the actors have been in or where they were now, and a good youtube video was always welcome during commercials.

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With in my first few weeks a majority of the staff became not coworkers but friends. Sarah  (3rd grade), Braxton (4th), Brenna (1st) , Catera (K), Rayna (2nd), Jamie (high school), Chris (Sped) and Sarah (counselor) excepted me into their tight circle. We did shadow hunters night, game nights, potlucks, hung out at community events, made plans for walks and weekends. The best part was just when we would get together and laugh and BS until late into the evening while snacking on food we all brought.

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I can’t express how much every single one of them meant to me. While I always missed my home, family and friends I feel like they became the family I needed to keep me sane in a small village.  I honestly feel like with out them I wouldn’t have made it. I became home sick and missed Ben so much but they were always there for me and able to “distract” me with lots of laughter and memories.  I don’t think I could every express to them how much they mean to me.  They always say that God brings people into your life for a reason, whether they are in your life for hours, weeks, months or years, there is a reason for everyone you meet.  Even though we were only together for 3 months I feel like they were brought into my life to be a part of it forever! I mean were already making plans to meet up a few times next year, and I can’t wait till I can see them again.

 

If any of the Stebbins crew is reading this, then I just want to say “Thanks! …….Thanks for everything!!”

NYO-Native Youth Olympics

This weekend we had the a practice game of the Native Youth Olympics against St. Michael, a little Battle of the Islands. When I first saw them practicing for this I was super excited but then found out they wouldn’t be competing here in Stebbins. So I was excited again when I found out I was going to be able to see a small competition between us and St. Michael. The Native Youth Olympics are where students compete in an array of different skills and strengths that are a part of their Alaskan heritage. Some of the events include the Alaskan High Kick, Arm Pull, Eskimo Stick Pull, Kneel Jump, One Foot High Kick, One Hand Reach, Scissor Broad Jump, Seal Hop, Two-Foot high kick, and Wrist Carry. It was amazing watching these Athletes compete. I’m posting some photos from last nights event. I know I’m not explaining each event but it would take forever to explain each event, so you can always go online and get more information if you want.

Eskimo Stick Pull, the Wrist Carry, and the Seal Hop

 

 

The Alaskan High Kick, Kneel Jump, One Foot High Kick

 

And of course the amazing fans!

 

 

Every time we sit down it becomes beauty parlor 😉

 

Where did March go?

Does anyone else feel like March was skipped? It seemed to fly by so fast! With April beginning so does my countdown of going home to Idaho. At the end of April I will be done with my internship. I have so many mixed feelings about this.

Some of the negatives about going home… I have made some of the greatest friendships here in Stebbins. I absolutely love every person I work with and have made some life long friends. It’s just insane to me how I can get so close to so many people especially in only 3 months. They are not just coworkers to me, they have seriously become my family up here.  I also feel like I’ve become a part of the community. The kids, even though some days are an insane house, have really touched me and I just want to take them all home! lol. I love seeing them in the village and they come running up to me so excited to see me! I love being at games, or community events and the children just love being with you and the funny stories they tell me, and our beauty parlor we would do because they were obsessed with my hair. I also love the culture here in Stebbins. To learn so much about the Yup’ik culture. I love hearing the stories, attending the events, and learning about something completely new to me. History is just amazing, and for here, heartbreaking at times.  It’s going to be very hard on me my last week to tell everyone and the kids goodbye. I predict lots of tears that day!

The positives about going home…I get to see my friends and family!! Duh!!! I’ve really missed everyone! It’s been very difficult being up here without Ben. I know it was best that he stayed home to get things done and keep working but some days I wanted to throw in the towel and come running home just to see him! So needless to say I’m super excited to seem my husband. I’ve also really missed my family and friends. To see pictures of them doing different things together has really bummed me out some days. My mom, family, and best friends are a huge part of my life and to have them so far away has been extremely hard!! I thank god for technology, that has given me the ability to talk to my family and see them whenever I want. It’s helped me keep my sanity.

No pictures this time but I promise next post will have lots and lots!

Until next time

~ Mellisa

Potlatch Time

The welcoming of Spring also became the welcoming of other villages visiting to celebrate Stebbins Potlatch. Potlatch is a series of Yup’ik songs, dance, rituals and most importantly, 1st Dance is considered a right of passage for many of the youth. While you can do first dance at any age, it is most common to the youth, around the age of 10, that represents them becoming a part of society, becoming an actual member of the community and culture.

We had 18 first dancers this year which I’ve been told is an insane amount of first dancers. The average is only 4-6. Potlatch is started off by a speech and prayer from an elder in the community, I couldn’t understand but was told it was mainly about thanking people for coming and being a part of their big celebration.

The festival goes on for 3 days. The first night was very long because each dancer is introduced by their elder family members, then they pass out gifts. I was told they have 1 gift for each first dancer per every elder, but trust me, there was a lot of gifts!! These gifts can range from small things such as cupcakes, candy, or trinkets to larger things such as boots, furs, and gear. Not only elders get gifts but almost everyone at Potlatch walks away with something, the elders receiving the bigger items. The dancer themselves do not pass out every gift but instead they stand presenting the gifts and their family members pass out the gifts. Before anything is given away though every single gift must touch the first dancer as a blessing and to represent the gift coming from them.

After the gifts a first dancer dances, doing their specific song, after a few minutes of dancing alone, the family members will join in with the first dancer. With 18 first dancers, this took a very long time. Starting at 6pm and not ending till 2-3am.  The second night the first dancers dance again but with out the gift giving or presentations. Then the third day/night is just a free for all and everyone that has ever danced before is welcome to dance, it’s kind of a going away party. The second and third night is a lot of fun because they traditionally have more fun with the dances and get comical in their routines.

Hope you enjoy! ~ Mellisa