Nenana gets first boarding students

Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2001

NENANA(AP) -- Students arriving at the new Nenana Student Living Center aren't all that concerned about which classes they'll take when school starts next week.

The teens have more immediate concerns, according to workers at the home:

''What kind of food are we having?''

''How late can we stay up?''

''When are we going to Fairbanks?''

The first residents of Nenana's new boarding home arrived Thursday and began settling in. This year, 55 students will live there and attend Nenana High School.

''To get things where we are and to go through and have the building and have the kids coming in, it is beautiful,'' said Superintendent Terry Bentley, sitting among piles of boxes in his office.

Workers still roamed the hallways last week, making final adjustments to mechanical systems and the kitchen. The smell of paint was strong in some hallways.

Student rooms had mattresses, along with pillows and linens still in their plastic wrappers. Furniture was notably absent.

State inspectors were expected to arrive on Monday to approve the kitchen. Furniture is due Wednesday.

Students seemed unconcerned about the hubbub and chatted like they'd been friends for years.

In a room down one wing, several girls sat on the floor snipping words out of magazines to glue on the signs they were making to go in the boys' wing.

That wing is too drab, they explained.

Anchorage student Marissa Carson, 16, says the opportunity to attend a smaller school appealed to her. She went to Bartlett High School last year.

''(Bartlett) is not very personal,'' Carson said. ''It is kind of overcrowded.''

The students hail from as far south as Sitka and as far north as Barrow. Their reasons for coming to Nenana are as diverse as their towns.

Jason Koelling, 15, of Sitka said he wanted to go to boarding school, and had never been to the Interior.

''I thought it would be cool to come up north and try something different,'' he said.

For Barbara Altig and Sara Burnett, both 15 and former Ben Eielson High School students, the independence was a draw.

Burnett's mother, Francine Burnett, said that while she will miss her daughter, she sees the value of the boarding home experience.

''So many kids get out of high school and get into college and it is a totally new experience for them,'' she said.

Tony Dickenson, 15, hopes the school will offer a wider range of classes than he could get in his home town, Delta Junction.

Dickenson said that with the number of students in Delta falling, class offerings have become sparse.

His mother, Sue Dickenson agreed.

''The program they have here, the enthusiasm about it, is going to be better than we have in our community,'' she said.

The facility has room for 96 students, and officials initially planned on admitting 88 the first year. But Bentley, the superintendent, said the school probably won't take many more than the 55 already accepted.

''It's new for us. It is new for the students,'' he said. ''It gives us a trial and error basis and 50 is a good number to iron out all the wrinkles.''

Still, with the boarding home at less than full capacity, this year's budget will be tight.

The district needs about 44 students to pay the roughly $300,000 in yearly loan payments on the building. The city of Nenana took out a 20-year, $4.5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build the facility.

Students attend the school free. Their room and board is covered by the state money the district receives for their education, about $6,000 per student. Students pay only a $200 damage deposit.

''One of the things that allowed us to do that is we didn't have to (substantially) increase the number of teachers in the building,'' Bentley said. The Nenana classes were small enough to absorb the new students, even though the influx roughly doubles the student population.

The boarding home has three sets of ''dorm parents'' who live at the center, as well as a dean of students, secretary, counselor, and custodial and kitchen staff. Outside school hours, dean of students Dee Wyckoff said, residents will have a chance to play sports and participate in other extracurricular activities in the community and at the boarding home.

''We are trying to give them very high structure,'' Wyckoff said. ''One of our important goals is to integrate the students who live here and the students who live in the town so they can do things together.''

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