Skagway School went through a restructuring this year. An influx in students enabled the school to create single-grade classrooms in the elementary school, increase Spanish and music classes, and start an accelerated learning program. It also opened space for three new teachers.
Rebecca Sullivan is sitting on the bleachers in Skagway School’s gym. Her high school physical education students are shooting baskets and hitting volleyballs back and forth. This is just one of the three hats Sullivan wears; she teaches high school social studies, P.E., and vocational education.
“I was certified in social studies in the state of Virginia, where it’s really common to have that one class that you teach all day,” Sullivan said. “And when I moved up to Alaska they gave me all these other classes and I wasn’t expecting to teach that, but it really it awesome being able to branch out like that.”
Sullivan had an almost identical job in Kivalina for two years before moving to Skagway. She enjoys all of the subjects she teaches, but social studies is her forte.
“I like to tell the stories, you know. No matter how old you get you love hearing stories. So I like to bring it on that level, sort of get it away from the memorization aspect and learn what it was like to be alive at certain time periods.”
Out of all the subjects covered by social studies, Sullivan says more recent history and current events are her favorites. Her government class is learning about the presidential election.
“I really like talking to kids about what’s going on in the world right now and why it’s like that and what do they think should be done because they’re gonna be the next generation coming up and dealing with what’s going on right now.”
Sullivan isn’t the only teacher at this small school who wears multiple hats.
“I am the accelerated learning program director and the college and career readiness teacher and the district test coordinator and the distance learning coordinator,” said Jennifer Hayes.
Before getting hired for this new, multi-pronged job, she worked in Skagway School as a special education paraprofessional. What drew her to this position?
“The accelerated learning program is really exciting to me,” Hayes said. “We do need that in this school, all schools need it. And it is a passion of mine. So that was the main grab for me.”
The accelerated learning program is in its infancy. When the school board found out the district was in for an extra bundle of state money due to increased enrollment, they chose to direct some of that funding to accelerated learning. Hayes says the school is still working out how the ALP program will look.
“Basically it’s up to the parents. What do they want for their student? It’s not a one-size-fits-all program.”
She says the program will target third through eighth graders.
Just like Hayes, Skagway School’s new fourth grade teacher worked in the school already before getting her current position.
“I landed a dream job,” said Danielle McManus.
McManus was a long-term substitute in the K/1/2 classroom last school year. Her background includes teaching English to Kindergartners in Taiwan, substitute teaching in the Lower 48 and student teaching in another fourth grade classroom.
“It’s the best and most interesting curriculum in my opinion. The students still love learning. And all seven of my students are bright as a whip.”
McManus comes into Skagway’s elementary grades at an interesting time. For decades, the school had combined-grade classrooms. This year, each elementary grade is separated out. McManus says it seems like her students are enjoying the change.
“They really like the attention they’re getting, having less numbers in the classroom. Also my seven fourth-graders — they’ve pretty much been together since they first got here. So they’re pretty close to begin with, but I think they’re excited to grow even closer throughout the year.”
So far, in the first week of school, McManus says she’s ‘leaving each day with a smile on her face.’
Note: KHNS will have a future story about Skagway School’s transition to single-grade elementary classrooms.