Through Bloomsburg University’s College of Education, I found an opportunity of a lifetime to prepare students in the Alaska Bush for their state testing over the course of two months. I graduated in December 2011and began my Alaska adventure Jan. 28, 2012. After saying goodbye to my family and fiancé in the airport, my journey from Pennsylvania to Chignik Bay, Alaska had begun.
When I arrived in Anchorage, I was greeted by Kasie Pletcher, the school counselor from the Lake and Peninsula School District. Over the course of three days, she helped me and three other tutors, including fellow Bloomsburg graduate Bryan Wolfe ’11, shop for a 10-week supply of groceries and pack totes — in the parking lot, garage and airport. Of course we ended up losing 12 of the 18 bags and totes between Anchorage and King Salmon. Once teachers in the district found out about our first experience with Penn Air airlines, all they had to say was “Welcome to the Bush!”
Receiving mail in the Bush can take months because it all comes in on airplanes and Bush planes only come in when there is good weather. Luckily, my flight to Chignik Bay on my first Bush airplane was amazing. The scenery outside the airplane’s window was astounding. I couldn’t believe that I was actually doing this. During the three months in Chignik Bay, I experienced everything that I could possibly do in the village.
I lived in an old classroom renovated by the elementary teacher, Amber Kresl, and her husband, Caleb, who is an aid at the school, and met several people who also traveled to the school to work with the students. Just like me, visitors sleep in the school while they are there.
After school and on the weekends, Amber and Caleb took me round rock hunting by the ocean, hiking, octopus hunting and clam digging. I saw several avalanches and I even got a glimpse of the Aurora which rarely happens this far south in Alaska.
During the school day, I worked with students in grade levels fourth, seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th, the only grades that take the state tests. Each grade had no more than two students — there are only 12 students in the school — and I spent an hour with each student everyday practicing the content that was on the test. The students took the standard-based test during four days at the beginning of April, which is a lot shorter then Pennsylvania state tests. I am very proud of how hard the students worked to prepare for the state test.
I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have had this experience. The opportunity to come to a remote village, interact with a different culture, and work with students has opened the doors to endless opportunities. I hope that my experience encourages college students to take a chance at new and unfamiliar opportunities. I can say that I am happy with the choices I’ve made, the attitude I exuded through this experience and the endless opportunities to come.
—Whitney Diehl ’11
Editor’s note: Whitney Diehl is a kindergarten teacher at Wonderland Charter School in State College. She hopes to return to Alaska.