The Floating Village

As you may recall, I’ve taken a teaching position in a small village of Southwestern Alaska.  I’ve been incredibly busy since my first day of arrival on August 2nd, almost every weekend occupied with professional training or cross country meets.  One of my athletes made it to the state finals in Anchorage, but we’ll save that story for another day.

I’ve kind of fallen in love with Atmautluak, aka, Atmau.  It’s beautiful and peaceful.  There are plenty of challenges for me to dive into.  My mind is occupied with all of the things a first-year teacher juggles.  But when I look out my very large window, I see a place of wonder and contrast.

Atmau is a Delacroix Island of the North.  It’s a fishing village lying in one of the largest river deltas in the world — larger than the Mississippi Delta itself.  Two of Alaska’s largest rivers — the Yukon and Kuskokwim — form the Y-K Delta with endless swirls and pockets of fresh, muddy water.  Part of the region is protected as the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge alone covers an area three times the State of Vermont.  The total area of the Y-K Delta is roughly the size of Louisiana.  Atmau, like Delacroix Island, lies just above sea level.  Unlike Delacroix, it’s 80 miles from the ocean by navigable water.  Still, Atmau is a buoy in the tidal plain, even this far away from Kuskokwim Bay.  The river flows in both directions, following the ebb and flood of the Bering Sea.  IMG_0624.JPG

The back and forth of the slow, flat river is a metaphor of a village that seems, for outsiders, a place of contrasts.  The landscape is beautiful, but trash litters the boardwalks.  There’s open water everywhere, although municipal water must be filtered and allocated on a daily basis.

Water, mud, and permafrost dictate the layout of infrastructure and day-to-day living.  Homes and buildings are raised on piling foundations hammered down to the permafrost.  Atmau is a floating village.   There are more boats than four-wheelers, and there are no cars.  (Well, there’s this one sinking into the muck.)

Boardwalk 1

Boardwalks make up the island’s primary road system.  Wide enough for a person to stand aside as a four-wheeler passes, the walks may be flat, wavy, or partially underwater.  One step off the boardwalk and you may be up to your knees in mud.  At best, you’ll be standing on a spongy surface of tundra marsh.

And then there’s the outdoor basketball court.  Basketball is pretty huge in the Lower Kuskokwim School District.  In the summertime, when the school gym is unavailable, this is where kids shoot hoops:

IMG_0248.JPGPretty cool, eh?

That’s all for now.  I’ve heard good things are happening in Northfield.  A good night was had by all at the second annual Night on the Common.  Northfield Falls is now a Designated Village Center, which puts it in the same position as the Common area for development and grant opportunities.  The Promise Community playground concept is evolving.  Keep up the good work, Northfield!

Kids, Cops & Dogs: NPD brings Canine Unit to Bridges Summer Camp.

About two dozen Northfield students in the Bridges Summer Camp watched K9 Huey and his partner-handler, Sgt. Dodge from the Barre Town Police Department.  K9 Huey is trained to find missing persons, track criminals, sniff out illegal drugs, and protect his partner when necessary.  Huey his own web page and is one of only  a small group of K9s in Vermont.  Huey and Sgt. Dodge attended the Bridges Summer program by invitation from Officer Dan Withrow from the Northfield Police Department.  kids_cops_dogs 2.pngOfficer Dan,  a Vermont Police Academy Gaiotti Award recipient, holds a BA in History from Norwich University and served as Deputy Sheriff prior to his placement on the NPD in 2013.  Earlier this year he approached staff at the Bridges Afterschool Program with a proposal to hold a one-week Junior Police Academy.

I’ll let Officer Dan explain in his own words:

Huey’s appearance was one component in the week-long session.  Officer Dan arranged multiple learning opportunities for students junior-cadets.  Bridges Program students learned about firearm safety, civil rights, control-and-restraint maneuvers, fingerprint dusting, and other enforcement practices.  Students also participated  in mock traffic stops, wore “drunk goggles” to learn about driving under the influence, and watched the Northfield Emergency Services conduct an auto-vehicle extraction using the “jaws of life”

The easiest way to make college affordable

The short story:  If you want to make college more affordable for your family, attend the College Information meeting in the Middle/High School cafeteria Monday night (April 4th) at 6:30 pm.  There will be admissions counselors from six Vermont colleges.  Click here for details.

Here’s *why* you should click the link to learn more:

If you you have children in the 9th to 12th grades, you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking.  My girls are now 14 and 15, which means I’m beginning to wonder how I’m going to get them through college without becoming  burdened with debt for the rest of my life — or theirs.

As you probably know, college is expensive.  In Vermont, tuition runs from $10,000 to over $50,000, even for in-state students.  So what if you could save one year’s tution?  What if your high school student could earn one year’s worth of credit, then take only 3 years’ to earn a 4-year degree?  Who wouldn’t want to save $10 to $50K?

The easiest way to make college affordable is to let students earn college credits while still in high school.  This is possible due to the Flexible Pathways program passed in 2013 and implemented in the 2014/15 school year.

Flexible PathwaysThere are four components to the Flexible Pathways program:  Dual Enrollment; Early College; Personalized Learning Plans (PLP) and; Work-Based Learning.

The Dual Enrollment opportunity allows Juniors and Seniors to take up to two  college courses prior to graduation.  Through the Early College program. high school Seniors may take a full year of college-level courses.  These courses come at no cost to the students or families.  Since funding is provided by the state, the local school budget isn’t affected, either.

If your kids are like mine, you may have heard your student grumbling about their Personalized Learning Plans. plp-process-cycleVermont requires every student, grades 7 to 12, to answer such questions as, “What are my goals for life after high school?  What do I need to do to achieve my goas?  How do I know that I’m meeting steps to help me achieve my goals?”  Creating a PLP isn’t easy because, after all, how many teenagers think about their life’s grand purpose without serious prodding?

On the other hand, PLPs are extemely important because the planning process is essential to a lifetime of success.  And frankly, there are a lot of college students who might benefit from mandatory career planning.  I can tell you from first-hand experience, as a 20 year-old English Literature student at UVM, I had no idea how I was going to apply my love for, um, poetry, to a real-world career.  The point I’m trying to make here is simple:  if you want to make college more affordable, ask your student’s guidance counselor (Michelle Acaftuck for high school and  Jerry Cassels for middle school) how you can participate in writing her/his PLP.

The fourth component to Flexible Pathways is Work-Based Learning.  This is best described at the link, but for convenience I’ll quote part of the description here.

Work-based learning experiences are activities that involve actual work experience or that connect classroom learning to employment and careers. These opportunities particularly help students make the connection between academic principles and real world applications. For many, understanding ‘Why do I need to know this?’ provides motivation for more learning.

In addition to being an essential component of good teaching and learning, work-based learning is also critical to developing Vermont’s future workforce.

There are caps and limitations to the Flexible Pathways program, but if you’re child is planning on college you should attend the meeting Monday night  at 6:30pm to learn more about this and other opportunities which can lessen the cost burden of college.

College Informational Panel

April 4th @ 6:30PM in the Middle/High School Cafeteria.  Parents and students in Grades 9 – 11 are invited to attend.

There will be a panel discussion with admission counselors from the following colleges:

  • University of Vermont
  • Saint Michael’s College
  • Vermont Technical College
  • Lyndon State College
  • Community College of Vermont
  • Norwich University and VSAC.

Topics will include:

  • Dual enrollment,
  • Applying to College,
  • Writing the college essay,
  • SAT/ACT test options,
  • Choosing a College & Major,
  • Financial Aid and Scholarships.

This is an excellent opportunity to speak with experts in the field and gain valuable current information to help guide your student for the future.  We look forward to seeing you there.  For more information or specific questions contact Michelle Aftuck, School Counselor at

Seriosly, attend the meeting next Monday, April 4th at 6:30 pm, in the cafeteria.  Whether she likes it or not, my 9th grader will be there.

Someone’s daughter working on PLP.




%d bloggers like this: