My alma mater, the Nikiski Elementary School, shut down a few years back leaving the North Star Elementary school the only one in town.
I loved Nikiski Elementary. I died a little bit inside when it closed its doors. They converted it to a recreation center, but it’ll never be the same. I still go there to check things out every now and again. They even have a teen night that a couple of my fellow alumni and I frequent. We usually make up more than half of the people in attendance.
It brings a tear to my eye to see what this once great school has been reduced to. I remember what it was like in its prime.
I would stand outside waiting for the bus. It would always be late on the especially cold days, and this was an especially cold day. Finally it came, and I walked down the aisle looking from side to side to make sure no one would attack me.
They were all asleep except for the few upperclassmen talking about some unknown lewd subject in the back. This was bus five.
The morning rides were rarely eventful. I would often try to find the seat with the heater. It would warm me up and had a little metal plate that had bent in such a fashion that if you stepped on it, then it would scrape the wall and make sparks. This could entertain me for hours, but alas the ride was only a few minutes. Then we arrived.
Tyler Payment is a friend of mine who reminded me what the mornings were like at Nikiski Elementary. I thought back to one typical day when I was a world wise third grader. School wouldn’t start for another twenty minutes, so we were forced into going out for the dreaded morning recess. My thick coat and brief period of heat on the bus were not enough to warm me now. As I strolled across the snow laden playground I could barely see through the pitch black of the Alaskan morning and the falling white particles.
I squinted to observe the various warming techniques. Some of the industrious students had spent several days rolling giant snowballs together to make shelter for days like this. Others tried burrowing into the side of the giant mound of snow created by the plow, or tried to sneak into someone else’s cave. I saw them roll down the side of the hill as the bigger kids forced them out. Underneath the big toy more students huddled away from the wind using each other’s heat.
Then there were the unlucky many who failed to find some form of shelter in time, and succumbed to the cold. I watched one fall as a scavenger came to strip him of his coat, hat, and gloves. I was in no position to help. I might be in the same predicament soon enough. I walked swiftly, avoiding eye contact all the way to the doors into the upperclassmen hallway. Students of all ages swarmed around this gate because it was opened most often. Of course it remained locked, and no one was allowed inside. This is where the duties entered and exited. Like insects we’d swarm to the heat of the building escaping into the dry morning air. I awaited the duty’s whistle with bated breath as that same scavenger tried to trade me another pair of gloves for my jeans. I was just about to do it when finally we where allowed inside. This is just one morning in the life of Nikiski Elementary. student. I experienced more than 1,000 of them.
It was harsh mornings such as that one in the hallowed grounds of my youth that shaped me into what I am today. I have a deep sense of loyalty to my old Nikiski Elementary. I don’t think people appreciate Elementary Schools enough. They teach us our colors, how to read, how to write in cursive, how to survive in sub-zero environments, and how to capitalize off of the free market using the fundamentals of supply meeting demand.
J.R. Cox is a senior at Nikiski High School. He dedicates this column to former Nikiski Elementary School teacher Mrs. Trauber who died earlier this year.
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