Teacher Jessica Tipkemper helps students chop zucchinis. (Emily Files)

Teacher Jessica Tipkemper helps students chop zucchinis. (Emily Files)

Klukwan School opened its doors this month to 13 Kindergarten through 12th grade students. Two of the school’s three teachers are new, but both have connections to Southeast.

“What might be good to have with our veggie tray tomorrow for snack?” Jessica Tipkemper asks her students.

Salad dressing?” one asks. 

“Kale smoothies!” another chimes in. 

The students of Klukwan School are getting ready for a hands-on activity. Earlier in the week, they took a field trip to Chilkat Valley Farms and picked bunches of vegetables. Now, they’re going to chop them up and get them ready for snacks, baking and freezing.

“This is kohlrabi, this is cabbage, those are zucchinis, yellow squash,” a student explains.

The kids work together to wash off dozens of zucchinis and a few huge heads of cabbage. Then, teacher Tipkemper carefully walks them through the chopping process.

“You’re gonna hold the knife and all your fingers are gonna be on the handle. Not the blade.”

Tipkemper is Klukwan’s new 7th through 12th grade teacher. She says they’re gonna make kale chips, veggie stir fry and more.

Jessica Tipkemper is the new grades 7-12 teacher. (Emily Files)

Jessica Tipkemper is the new grades 7-12 teacher. (Emily Files)

“So that the kids are eating food that they actually helped pick. They know where it grew, they know the environment, they know the dirt that it grew in, and hopefully have a little more enthusiasm for eating local and fresh foods.”

Tipkemper transferred to Klukwan from another school in the same district. Chatham School District is made up of schools in three small communities dozens of miles apart: Klukwan, Angoon and Gustavus. Tenakee used to be included in the district, but the school closed down this year due to low enrollment. Tipkemper was at Gustavus School for a couple years.

“My parents were teachers,” Tipkemper said. “And so all my life growing up my parents said, ‘whatever you do, don’t be a teacher.’”

She taught environmental education and college communication classes before, but she just recently became a schoolteacher.

“I worked as a park ranger at Glacier Bay as an environmental educator for years. And through that I would go into the school in the Gustavus, and thought ‘wow this really small, multi-age setting is something I want to learn more about.’ And even though my parents told me not to, here I am.”

Klukwan School’s other new teacher has roots even closer to the village. Fran Daly is a Haines High School graduate.

Fran Daly is the new K-6 teacher. (Emily Files)

Fran Daly is the new K-6 teacher. (Emily Files)

“All the kids know each other so they’re very comfortable with each other,” Daly said. “And it’s just very close-knit. It’s nice.”

Daly has a degree in elementary education from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She taught Kindergarten and first grade in the 1,000-person town of Salcha, Alaska before coming here. Now she’s teaching a K-6 classroom.

“It’s just a lot different working with everybody in the same space. But it’s really enjoyable because the kids are working hard to help each other out with different things. And they’re very independent workers; they’re doing a good job of staying on task and trying their hardest.”

Daly says the small school has flexibility in its day-to-day activities to do things like taking a field trip a farm and processing vegetables.

So, do the kids actually like eating these kind of vegetables? Ocean Nash replies:

“I like these!” he points to the zucchini, and adds: “In bread with chocolate chips. Chocolate chip zucchini bread.”

Whether the zucchini’s in bread or raw on the lunch tray, Klukwan School is stocked with vegetables for the students and new teachers to enjoy.