I saw the request written on a note, gently pushed on the conference table towards my laptop late during our meeting and at first I have to admit I didn't think it was real. "APTT emergency" it read. "Can you go to Alaska next week?" I looked at my supervisor and gave a puzzled look then said "Are you for real?" It was real. All of our other consultants were going to be in the field and someone from our team needed to head to the Last Frontier and lead our parent-school engagement work in Anchorage, Alaska.
After six hours of flight time, and some panoramic views of gigantic mountains and sweeping rock formations, I slowly arrived to the conclusion that I was entering into a very special place on the Earth. As our flight descended, I noticed intense cracks in the earth drift into the wide endless ocean signs of ice and cold slowly melting away. Immediately, I felt a shift in my soul. Looking out my small plane window, I notice the feeling might have much to do with the magnificent mountains that covered us all here.
I went right to work. I arrived at Lake Otis Elementary which was surrounded by huge skies and massive mountains, met with several teachers, the principal and our district partner who kindly shepherd me the into the first class room I was to observe. I'll need to write more about my thoughts and experiences in the schools but for now let me depart for a moment.
Let me please make a disclaimer. I was a person who has some poor biases sometimes and Alaska was a place that I envisioned complete with packed dogs, igloos and Eskimos. Nonetheless, Alaska humbled me, threw my biases' out into the Bay of Alaska, and reframed my thinking and experiences in life in a much more concerted and concentrated way. More on this later, but for now...
Alaska Fun Facts:
* Diverse is First: A middle aged brown skinned mother stood up during our ice-breaker and declared with proud authority, "My daughter and I are ALASKAN women." This sentence is still plastered in my mind like snow capped Mount Denali.
* Funky Dividends: Every single man, women and child receives an annual check from the government from the dividends yield from the sale and distribution from the Alaskan Pipeline. This effected parent attendance at our meetings because, as I found out from other teachers, many marginalized, disenfranchised parents were out "shopping, eating" and celebrating.
* Students Attend Meetings WITH Parents: This was a big departure from our practice however, having students in attendance with their parents encouraged greater ownership of the take-home activities, goal-setting and the like.
* Lots of Alaskans Not From Alaska:" Most folks that I spoke with came from all different parts of the "Lower 48" to come to Alaska.
* "Being Polite Only Takes a Minute:" A parent told me this as he offered a chair to me. I really like this quote.
* Anchorage School District - Most Languages, Most Diverse: Over 80 percent of students speak English in the school district. The remaining 20 percent? These students speak over 99 different languages making it the most diverse in the country.
My biases exposed. My gratitude for the people, geography and particularly the energy of Alaska.