There are thousands of things I do not understand. I do not understand differential equations, I do not understand Russian. I only partially comprehend the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and I pretend to understand how the robot Uriah is building actually moves. But on top of those things of which I have only a flitting knowledge are the concepts and systems of which I have not even heard, and that surround me every day.
One of these systems is the Lake and Peninsula School District, which serves the Lake and Peninsula Borough in Southwest Alaska. Before last September I could not have told you there was such a thing, let alone imagined I’d be a small but signifiant part of it in the coming months and year.
But since the District–and by District I mean I really have no idea who–voted–or decided or drew straws or did a dart-throw–to close the school building here in Pedro Bay, I have become the tutor, the go-to girl, the voice of the children’s education. My background is in teaching, so this is not a stretch. Nor is it unwelcome. Truth be told, I wish I could teach full time and not just in the mornings. As it is now, we meet for three hours every day, from 9 until noon, and afterward I have to go back upstairs to my position as technical specialist for the village.
The school meets in the downstairs room of the council building which, now, is the only public building in Pedro, besides the post office, which is only open 16 hours a week and only receives Outside mail three days a week. But no one really hangs out at the post office, there’s no room in there to do so, so it’s the council building for all your village needs. Ask the right person and you can even have your mail picked up for you, no charge of course, and brought to the council building. So really, we’re it. Lovely little village of 45 people, how I adore you.
And troubled, impersonal school district, how I don’t adore you! In this process I have learned to be stalwart, I have learned to be outspoken but not mean, I have learned that it is true what Lora Jean Piper told me on my first day of teaching ever-ever: Make friends with the secretary and the custodian: they’ll make your life hell if you tee them off, but they’ll call in favors if they like you. Well, one likes me. Tim McDermott, maintenance man for LPSD, has found a friend in me, and I in him. Two days ago when I saw that he and Gil were boarding up the windows of the Dena’ina School I felt a sick feeling coming on in my stomach. I was angry, and I was scared, and I did not understand what we had done here in Pedro Bay to warrant such aggressive closure. They wanted ten kids in the school; we only produced nine.