The Haines school year began this week with two new teachers and a new superintendent. That’s a much less noticeable turnover than last year, when there were 10 new teachers and administrators starting out. Of the new instructors this year, one is working with the youngest children and the other with the oldest students in the school.
“English doesn’t have to be several dusty books,” said Alex Van Wyhe, the new Haines high school English teacher.
He says there are two teachers who inspired him to follow this path.
“One was a high school English teacher who didn’t teach me and that was my mom. But then I also had a great English teacher [when] I went to a prep school in New Mexico. He was this really goofy guy. He was part of the International Sherlock Holmes society.”
Van Wyhe says personally, he’s more of John Steinbeck fan than a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle aficionado. But he says that teacher translated his passion for literature into his classroom.
“English and Language Arts in general give a great opportunity to better understand the world around us for ourselves and to express ourselves through our writing. And I think helping students to develop the skills to do that effectively and purposefully are noble goals and something I hope to achieve.”
Van Wyhe grew up in Kenny Lake, Alaska, and this is his first teaching job. He recently finished his master’s degree in Education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He student taught at a school much bigger than Haines: West Valley High in Fairbanks.
“I think small towns offer a great opportunity for students, there’s more individualized learning, you get a better chance to know all your students. I was working at a school with 1,000 kids up in Fairbanks. And you walk the halls and you don’t know most students’ names.”
Haines’ other new teacher is coming from a school much smaller than this one.
“I was in St. Mary’s for the last five years teaching Kindergarten,” said Sarah Vosz.
She also taught in three other Alaska villages for one year each: Koyuk, Akiachak and Nuiqsut.
“My husband and I were really kind of done with the village thing, we were ready to get back to civilization. But we like the small-town feel of the village. And I think we had never been to Southeast before so we thought we would try that.”
Vosz says one of the biggest challenges she’s dealt with so far in her teaching career is making room for things like art and music in school districts that are pushing to make Kindergarten more academic.
“I’ve noticed in all the schools I’ve worked in so far, they’re lower-performing, and the test scores are low so there’s just more and more push from the state to do away with art, and playtime, and all the fun stuff that makes them want to come to the school. So that was really sad. It was the hardest part, I think.”
Vosz says she’s excited about the emphasis Haines School places on the arts.
She thinks one of her challenges here will be fitting an anticipated 23 students into the classroom. There was a large Kindergarten class last year as well, and administration decided to move a few of the Kindergartners into the first grade classroom. Vosz says she’s not sure whether that will happen again.
Either way, she says she’s excited to see her students grow.
“Usually by the end they’re reading to me instead of me reading to them. It’s just a huge, huge difference.”
Kindergarten and first grade start school Monday. Other grades kicked off the year this week.