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Thing Two

Good teachers do many crazy stunts to get students interested in learning.

Our school in Eek, Alaska, is blessed with some fine teachers. Every March in conjunction with the Iditarod dog sled race our school does an Iditaread reading competition. The students get points moving them along the Iditarod trail for each page they read.

This year, in support of Dr. Seuss and National Read Across America Day, two of our teachers, Julia Oschwald and Kayla Ashe, decorated the elementary wing of the school in a Cat in the Hat theme.

One of our better young readers is Kristin, the young lady standing next to the Cat in the Hat. The garment she is wearing looks like a dress, but is actually a qaspeq, a traditional Yup’ik Eskimo hooded garment.  

Dirk Martin and Kyle Pratt

As a teacher and an author, I support just about anything that encourages students to read, even if it makes me look silly. In the picture I’m Thing Two and my colleague, Dirk Martin, is Thing One.

The Trip III

(Part Three)

The Bethel runway lights are broken? A moan echoed through the terminal. “Are they kidding?” I asked no one in particular.

They weren’t.

The man on the PA continued. “Alaska Airlines is adding an extra flight tomorrow. All of you will be rolled over onto that plane and your flights rebooked.”

I borrowed a phone from my friend Julia, who looked to be near tears, and informed my family that I would be spending the night in Bethel. “No, at the moment I have no idea when I’ll be home,” I said.

As I strolled to the counter to retrieve my bag a new fear flashed through my mind. A whole plane load of people would now be looking for hotel rooms in a town of 6,000 people.

Quickly, I retrieved my luggage and went to find a taxi. I’m not sure how we did it, but after standing in the freezing cold for about ten minutes I crammed into a cab with four other people.

Fortunately, I was the first one dropped off. I walked into the Long House Hotel and found a line of five families at the check-in counter.

Reaching the front of the line, I said, “I need a room for tonight.”

“Do you have a reservation?”

“No.”

“Were you on the flight that was cancelled tonight?”

“Yes.”

He nodded. “That sure has been a bonus for the hotel tonight.”

“Do you have any rooms available?”

“A few.”

With a look at the line behind me I said, “I’ll take one.”

I woke the next morning, Sunday the 22nd, just after 6:00 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I didn’t have to be at the terminal until 10:00 a.m. so breakfast sounded like a good idea, but the restaurant wouldn’t be open until 8:00 a.m. I climbed out of bed, bathed, shaved, dressed, packed and was standing at the door of the restaurant before they unlocked the door.

When they opened I took a booth all for myself and ordered eggs, pancakes and sausage. Lord knows when or where I’ll be eating next. As I finished my meal I heard someone ask, “Would you like some company, Kyle?”

Looking up, I saw Brett, the Principal of Eek School, with his wife and two young children.

I motioned for him to join me. “So, you didn’t get out of Bethel either.” Brett and his family had been trying to leave town on an Era Airlines turboprop flight to Anchorage.

“No,” he said as he sat down. “When the weather delayed us getting out of Eek, we missed our flight. Era is so backed up….” He let the sentence die with a shake of the head. “We spent the night here and now we’re scheduled to fly out on Christmas Eve.”

We spent the next few minutes sharing travel horror stories and then wished each other luck as I left to pack a few last minute things and head to the airport.

We had been told to return to the Alaska Airlines terminal at 10:00 a.m., but at 9:35 when the taxi dropped me off it was already busy. The line coiled around the waiting room like giant snake, and I was the end.

The line slowly moved forwarded while growing longer. The waiting area got ever more crowded. Over an hour later I stepped up to an agent. She confirmed I was booked on the 11:00 a.m. flight to Anchorage.

I looked at my watch. It read 10:50.

“We’re running behind,” the agent said and handed me a boarding pass.

“So, I’m only booked to Anchorage?”

She sighed. “The only available seats are on Christmas morning.”

It was my turn to sigh. “If that is all you have book me on it.”

The Christmas Morning Ticket

The agent typed on the computer for a minute and then wrote my connecting flight information on a scrap of paper, tore it from the sheet, and handed it to me.

I stared at it for a second. “This is my ticket,” I asked waving the bit of paper.

“It’s more of an itinerary than a ticket. Show it to the agent in Anchorage when you pick up your luggage.”

Feeling not a bit confident, I walked over to the growing TSA line.

(Part Four tomorrow)

The Trip II

(Part Two)

After removing the freight from the plane loading our luggage was easy and quick.

Just before takeoff the pilot turned in his seat and gave the usual speech about seatbelts and, in case of a crash, where the emergency transponder was located, then he said, “If we get to Bethel and I start circling it’s because the visibility has gone down over the airport.”

At that moment visions of us flying around and around over Bethel, but ultimately returning to Eek darkened the already cloudy day for me. The pilot went on to say, “It has been doing that all day.” However, he seems confident we would land in Bethel.

 I had planned to take video as we bumped down Eek’s icy dirt runway and get a shot of the village as we lifted in the air, but instead I was scraping frost off the inside of the window. When the window was clear I did took the video of frozen tundra which you see here.

The Caravan that you see in the video is much bigger than the Cessna 207s that normally service the village. This is fast luxury flying from the for us.

The weather stayed clear and we were soon on the ground in Bethel. It was now about four in the afternoon of December 21st. As I walked from the plane toward Grant Aviation terminal in Bethel I considered my options. I had no hotel reservation. My travel itinerary had me arriving home, with Santa, late on Christmas Eve. I decided to head over to the Alaska Airline terminal and try and get on the evening flight to Anchorage. I knew that it was very unlikely that I would get a seat, but I saw no reason not to try.

The Alaska Airlines terminal in Bethel, consists mostly of a waiting room with three ticket counters, a TSA checkpoint, baggage carousel, and bathrooms around the edges. By modern airport standards its small and drab. The clerk behind the counter shook his head slowly. “Every seat is taken, but I can take your name down in case something opens up.”

I thanked him and sat down with my friends Dirk and Julia in the waiting area. Dirk had missed his flight on Friday, but had managed to get rebook earlier and get a seat on the night flight. Julia was even luckier; she had originally booked herself on the upcoming flight. I sat between them wondering just how long I would be in Bethel.

Three hours later, as I chatted with my friends, a voice came over the waiting area. “Kyle Pratt, please report to the ticket counter.”

I nearly ran.

Going up to the same clerk he said, “I’ve got you a seat on the flight tonight and as he typed my information in he added, “a seat has opened up on the red eye flight to Seattle. Do you want it?”

“Yes!”

For over an hour I relaxed in the glow of knowing I would be home by morning. Then I again heard the crackle of the PA system. “Attention in the terminal, the runway lights here in Bethel are broken, they won’t turn on, and consequently the 9:30 flight to Anchorage has been cancelled.”

(Part Three tomorrow)

Spring Break

Friday was Spring Break here in Eek, Alaska!

Okay, actually we had Friday and the weekend off for a grand total of three days! 

We don’t celebrate many of the holidays, like Veteran’s or President’s Day, in the village schools so three days off is actually nice. 

While that just a short time off from the regular school routine, I still wanted to celebrate.  I asked one of my students, Tim Heakin, to help me create this two minute video showing some of our spring break activities.  Two minutes was all the time we needed to show our celebration. I hope you enjoy it.

A Trip to Bethel

Ready for boarding

Eek, the village where I teach, is out on the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta of Alaska. 

          The village sits on a bluff just above the river Eek.  There are so many lakes, streams and ponds in this region that most are unnamed.  Where there is land it is often marshy.  Even in the village the ground can be spongy this time of year.  That is why there are no roads that leave the village.  The ground just isn’t firm enough to support a road and the vehicles that would travel on it.  The one dirt road that goes the length of the village is has numerous bumps, dips and pools of water.  Until freeze up, when all the rivers and streams are well frozen over, if you travel out of the village it will probably be by boat or air.

yle Pratt in the van with Julia and Joylene

                  Last week all the teachers in the Lower Kuskokwim School District were called into Bethel for training.  For most that meant flying by bush plane.  Eight of us from Eek crammed into one small bush plane for the trip.  The picture above was taken on the tarmac in Bethel as we were about to return to Eek.  The scene would be typical of anywhere in the delta region, except the village runways are dirt.

Caitlyn drew the short straw

                Once in Bethel the school district sent a van to pick us up.  Traveling in this region means learning to wait and becoming accustomed to cramped, cold conditions both in the planes and sometimes on the ground.  When the luggage was loaded on the district van there was not enough room for all the people, but no one wanted to wait for the next trip.  No problem, we kept squeezing. We’re all friends.  That is me in the brown coat. 

You know that space between a van seat and the wall of the vehicle, you can fit someone there, and I have photographic proof.  It does take a special kind of teacher to work out here, but we all arrived at the district training in one piece and in good humor.