School has been in session in Skagway for a couple weeks. The district has two new teachers and they say things are off to a good start.
For Jessica Ward, moving to Skagway was kind of a homecoming. Ward grew up in Haines. She moved east for college and taught math in Virginia for nine years. In 2014, she came back to Skagway.
“I was just going to work for the summer, spend some time with my family that’s here. And just see how it went. I intended to go back east at the end of the season but I the community is such a good community that I wound up wanting to stay longer,” sayd Ward.
At the Skagway School, Ward teaches math from algebra up. That means she’s working with middle and high schoolers.
Ward replaces longtime math teacher Dottie DeMark who was moved to a different position last year. It was a controversial decision and DeMark objected to the reassignment.
Ward says things are going well so far.
“The kids are so good,” says Ward. “The community support is great. The small class size is really nice. The school I taught at before had huge class sizes. So it’s nice to actually have time with each student and help them with what they need help with.”
When she’s teaching, Ward says she has one main goal.
“I just think I like to make sure the kids are engaged,” says Ward. “Whatever it is that drives them to learn more, I sort of go in that direction. Because that’s the whole intent is to make them want to learn more.”
Even when she’s not in school, Ward is not far from kids.
“I have two kids of my own, so I spend a lot of time doing things with them,” says Ward. “Just enjoying the community, enjoying the outside, the parks and the hikes and things.”
That’s something Misty McNellis is looking forward to.
“I know Skagway has some pretty good hiking so I’m still looking forward to getting on those trails, because I haven’t had the chance to yet,” says McNellis.
McNellis is teaching science at the Skagway School. She has roots in Alaska too. She grew up in the Mat-Su Valley, and got a degree in biological sciences from the University of Alaska. McNellis is working on getting her masters in secondary education right now. This is her first teaching job after student teaching in Wasilla.
“I’m really looking forward to finding out a little bit more about who I am as a teacher and my teaching style,” says McNellis. “When I did my student teaching I was working under a mentor teacher and there was expectations and guidelines in place with her norms and expectations. So this year it’s me finding out a little bit more about who I am and my teaching style and how I like to go about things.”
One thing McNellis already knows about her teaching style – she’s flexible.
“We have a pretty set schedule already,” says McNellis. “A lot of it’s – I like to dictate my lessons and my pacing by what the kids give off, and the vibe that they give off. There’s some flexibility there. If they’re really stuck on something, we’ll spend a little bit more time.”
McNellis says she feels lucky to have landed her first teaching job at the Skagway School.
“I’m really fortunate that I was able to get this position,” says McNellis. “It really does seem like I’m coming into a great school and a great community. So it’s really nice to have that as my first teaching experience, really positive. So I’m grateful for that.”
McNellis has been in town since July. She says living in the small Skagway community is a big change, but one that’s been very positive.