My high school career has been a bit of a struggle. There are only two people left in my class who started preschool with me. Over the past few years, several of my close friends have transferred to larger schools and it has been difficult emotionally and socially. My class size has decreased from 18 in my freshman year to 12 my senior year and two of the seniors are new students.
I have attended school in the small community of Ninilchik since kindergarten.
Our k-12 school houses 157 students, mostly elementary. The staff and programs have been gradually cut every year until it seems bare bones. There are seven teachers serving grades seven through 12. Two of those teachers (music and physical education) also teach elementary classes which makes them half-time for junior high and high school.
Many juniors and seniors take classes through the state’s Alaska Online free correspondence school (acs.akonline.net) or Brigham Young University’s correspondence (ce.byu.edu) at $102 per semester to earn credits because the schedule doesn’t offer everything we need on a yearly basis.
There are few options for third-year required electives which are offered on a rotating basis. This year the only third-year math elective is trigonometry. The only third-year science elective is anatomy and physiology. If students need chemistry this year they are out of luck. There is only one music class for high school students and band. Several years ago, when the population was up to 240, there were classes like survival skills, stained glass, metal art, small engines, technology, home economics, choir, art and drama.
For larger 3A and 4A schools, similar courses are standard and expected. Larger schools have several fine arts, practical arts, tech and advanced placement classes to choose from most years.
Small schools never know from one year to the next if they will have even a half-time music teacher. Sports opportunities are limited as well. Our school has cross-country, wrestling, volleyball, basketball and track. Each year students leave for large schools that have football, soccer, swimming and other sports, as well as a greater variety of class offerings.
There are students here now who wish they could attend larger schools but it’s hard to pick up roots to move a family, drive back and forth or live with someone else. Many sacrifices must be made if you choose to transfer because there are new rules and regulations governing attendance areas and busing zones.
I once considered going to a bigger school with greater opportunities, but I made the decision to stay put. I’ve been here my whole life and want to graduate here. With my father coaching and my mother teaching, and a family fishing business, I have deep roots and a sense of commitment.
Our principal Mr. Martin likes to say, “Small schools work.” However, it will take more than a slogan to keep the spirit alive, unfortunately.
The district’s blanket funding formula is breaking small schools and needs some serious revamping if small schools are to stay alive and well. Perhaps one formula for 1A and 2A and another formula for 3A and 4A would provide a little more equity.
I want assurances that students will have some fine and practical arts programs every year and all the classes needed for graduation will be offered in time for students to take them before graduation.
Students from 1A and 2A schools are smart and talented and deserve a well rounded education for their future and shouldn’t have to transfer schools to get it.
Alaska is a big state with a lot more small towns and villages than large cities and large schools and the educational system needs more scrutiny by those in charge.
I don’t have the answers but I sure have a lot of questions!
A good place to start would be for the superintendent to meet with and talk to all students in the district who attend small schools in a positive collaborative manner to gather information and suggestions. Students are an excellent source of information and if given a chance.
I believe this would be a good place to start making the changes needed in small schools like mine.
Krista Leman is a senior at Ninilchik School.
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