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Field trips are rare, but Tyonek school likes its place in the district

Posted: Wednesday, September 27, 2000

When people think of Kenai Peninsula schools, they usually envision the town schools of Kenai, Soldotna, Homer or Seward, with hundreds of students and dozens of teachers.

But the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has many schools that do not fit that mold at all, including four that administrators call "over the water" schools. Three (Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek) are on the south end of the peninsula. But perhaps the most distinctive is E.L. Bartlett School in Tyonek.

"It is so different from the other places in the district," said Fred Colvin, who took over as the school's principal teacher this fall.

"We forget that these people are truly isolated. They don't get the opportunities that kids at the rest of the schools get."

Tyonek, a Dena'ina Athabaskan village of about 160 people, lies about 40 miles due north of Kenai on the west side of Cook Inlet. It is the only Kenai Peninsula Borough community actually not on the peninsula. Mountains divide it from the interior, and water separates it from the developed areas of Southcentral Alaska.

Colvin described the community as private and interested in sovereignty.

 

John Camp, a plant shift supervisor at the Phillips Alaska LNG plant in Nikiski, shows off the control room of the plant to students from the E.L. Bartlett School in Tyonek.

Photo by Jay Barrett

The school opened in 1967 and expanded in 1976 and 1977. It has a capacity of 125, according to district records.

This year, the school has 45 students in kindergarten through 11th grades.

Students and teachers look back nostalgically on the resources the school had in the late 1970s and early '80s.

Sophomore Jenna Standifer, 15, has lived in Tyonek all her life. She was too young to remember those flush times, but she has heard about them. Families from logging camps in the area sent their children to the school. It had a basketball team, cheerleaders and elective classes such as journalism, she said.

Rick Matiya, who oversees Native education programs for the district, said that in its heyday the school had 150 students.

Now there are not enough teens to field a basketball team. The Native Youth Olympics, which is sponsored by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, and the Boys and Girls Club run the only sports and extracurriculars, not the school district.

 

Steve Arbelovsky, operations manager for the Phillips Alaska LNG plant in Nikiski, helps Robert Stephan, a 7th grader at Tyonek's E.L. Bartlett School, light a small quantity of the liquefied natural gas after the students were given a demonstration of its properties. Arbelovsky said in the winter, the LNG is dumped into a snow bank and ignited, creating a true fire and ice spectacle.

Photo by Jay Barrett

That doesn't mean the district is not spending money on the school.

"It is absolutely more expensive to run a school over there," said Superintendent Donna Peterson.

Delivering services is expensive and unreliable because everything travels by air to the village, which does not even have a store. For example, to send a resource person to the school requires a full day -- weather permitting -- because there is only one flight in and one flight out, she said.

"And it's an expensive flight," she said. "We have to always be aware of that."

 

Jed Watkins, the senior production engineering specialist at the Phillips Alaska LNG plant in Nikiski, pours liquefied natural into a beaker from an insulated container during a demonstration for students from the E.L. Bartlett School in Tyonek. The mist is chilled water vapor, while the white droplets on the table are little bits of minus 258 degree Fahrenheit LNG bouncing and sizzling as they boil off into methane gas.

Photo by Jay Barrett

Colvin said round-trip fares to Kenai are $140 a person, but only $80 to Anchorage. Understand-ably, many in the village feel more connected to Alaska's biggest city than to the Kenai Peninsula.

Standifer says her family flies to Anchorage about once a month for shopping, but she has only been to Kenai a few times.

The isolation leads to a school situation where the students are the same year after year, but the teachers change.

Peterson said the district has fewer problems with staff turnover in its remote schools than completely Bush districts do, and she said some imported teachers take to the place.

"A lot of people get over there and really like it."

She said Colvin taught at the school from 1981 to 1984 and returned with open eyes. The three other teachers he supervises are all new since last year.

"It is a nice place to be," Peterson said. "We have wonderful support over there. As long as the school is doing its job, the village is happy."

Colvin sees another side of the turnover. He said he has found educational materials staff purchased in the past that have never even been unpacked, because the people who ordered them left before having a chance to use them.

Standifer has seen some confusion result.

"There were a couple times we had to tell teachers we already had a subject, so they had to move us up a bit," she said.

Despite the small size, the teachers work hard to cover all subjects for all ages, especially at the upper grades.

Standifer said the teachers are sometimes so busy they have trouble offering individual attention even though there are only 10 students in the high school grades. She said she wishes her school offered more activities such as art.

But she sees advantages of a small school, too.

"I think I would have a bit of a harder time with a bigger class," she said. "It's small, but the teachers are really good. "

Many of her classmates dream of attending college someday and cultivating expanded job options, she said.

Colvin said he worries about many of the students but wants to give them more opportunities by bringing in more extracurricular activities. He plans an after-school computer club and has set a goal of monthly field trips, starting with the Sept. 19 visit to Kenai compliments of Phillips Alaska Inc. To raise money, the school is sponsoring bingo and turning to the business community outside of the village.

"I have no problem asking people for help," Colvin said. "It is really hard for them to say no."

HEAD:the water

HEAD:Field trips are rare, but Tyonek school likes its place in the district

BYLINE1:By SHANA LOSHBAUGH

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

When people think of Kenai Peninsula schools, they usually envision the town schools of Kenai, Soldotna, Homer or Seward, with hundreds of students and dozens of teachers.

But the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District has many schools that do not fit that mold at all, including four that administrators call "over the water" schools. Three (Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek) are on the south end of the peninsula. But perhaps the most distinctive is E.L. Bartlett School in Tyonek.

"It is so different from the other places in the district," said Fred Colvin, who took over as the school's principal teacher this fall.

"We forget that these people are truly isolated. They don't get the opportunities that kids at the rest of the schools get."

Tyonek, a Dena'ina Athabaskan village of about 160 people, lies about 40 miles due north of Kenai on the west side of Cook Inlet. It is the only Kenai Peninsula Borough community actually not on the peninsula. Mountains divide it from the interior, and water separates it from the developed areas of Southcentral Alaska.

Colvin described the community as private and interested in sovereignty.

The school opened in 1967 and expanded in 1976 and 1977. It has a capacity of 125, according to district records.

This year, the school has 45 students in kindergarten through 11th grades.

Students and teachers look back nostalgically on the resources the school had in the late 1970s and early '80s.

Sophomore Jenna Standifer, 15, has lived in Tyonek all her life. She was too young to remember those flush times, but she has heard about them. Families from logging camps in the area sent their children to the school. It had a basketball team, cheerleaders and elective classes such as journalism, she said.

Rick Matiya, who oversees Native education programs for the district, said that in its heyday the school had 150 students.

Now there are not enough teens to field a basketball team. The Native Youth Olympics, which is sponsored by the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, and the Boys and Girls Club run the only sports and extracurriculars, not the school district.

That doesn't mean the district is not spending money on the school.

"It is absolutely more expensive to run a school over there," said Superintendent Donna Peterson.

Delivering services is expensive and unreliable because everything travels by air to the village, which does not even have a store. For example, to send a resource person to the school requires a full day -- weather permitting -- because there is only one flight in and one flight out, she said.

"And it's an expensive flight," she said. "We have to always be aware of that."

Colvin said round-trip fares to Kenai are $140 a person, but only $80 to Anchorage. Understand-ably, many in the village feel more connected to Alaska's biggest city than to the Kenai Peninsula.

Standifer says her family flies to Anchorage about once a month for shopping, but she has only been to Kenai a few times.

The isolation leads to a school situation where the students are the same year after year, but the teachers change.

Peterson said the district has fewer problems with staff turnover in its remote schools than completely Bush districts do, and she said some imported teachers take to the place.

"A lot of people get over there and really like it."

She said Colvin taught at the school from 1981 to 1984 and returned with open eyes. The three other teachers he supervises are all new since last year.

"It is a nice place to be," Peterson said. "We have wonderful support over there. As long as the school is doing its job, the village is happy."

Colvin sees another side of the turnover. He said he has found educational materials staff purchased in the past that have never even been unpacked, because the people who ordered them left before having a chance to use them.

Standifer has seen some confusion result.

"There were a couple times we had to tell teachers we already had a subject, so they had to move us up a bit," she said.

Despite the small size, the teachers work hard to cover all subjects for all ages, especially at the upper grades.

Standifer said the teachers are sometimes so busy they have trouble offering individual attention even though there are only 10 students in the high school grades. She said she wishes her school offered more activities such as art.

But she sees advantages of a small school, too.

"I think I would have a bit of a harder time with a bigger class," she said. "It's small, but the teachers are really good. "

Many of her classmates dream of attending college someday and cultivating expanded job options, she said.

Colvin said he worries about many of the students but wants to give them more opportunities by bringing in more extracurricular activities. He plans an after-school computer club and has set a goal of monthly field trips, starting with the Sept. 19 visit to Kenai compliments of Phillips Alaska Inc. To raise money, the school is sponsoring bingo and turning to the business community outside of the village.

"I have no problem asking people for help," Colvin said. "It is really hard for them to say no."



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