Welcome to the Bering Strait School District!
You are about to begin an adventure such as you have never encountered before. You will become immersed in another culture and in a part of the world unlike any you have ever known. Your need for self-sufficiency will become evident. You will be called upon to assume responsibilities usually delegated to others in places where human resources are less limited. The experiential base of your professional life will be measurably broadened. You will be challenged professionally to utilize your skills, wits, and creative ideas to meet the educational challenges faced by you and your students. Through it all you will gain a sense of satisfaction for doing a job well done. As a result of your time here your growth in your professional skills and abilities will become self-evident. Because of the smallness of the community and the school, you will almost immediately recognize the impact you have on the students. There is nothing more rewarding for educators than knowing you have made a difference in the lives of your students. You will be able to see that here: both in the classroom and in the community.
As a new employee in our school district, you are most likely going to encounter many personal and professional transitions in the months ahead. The purpose of this manual is to provide you with some information that you can read ahead of time to ease those transitions somewhat. As you get to the end of your first year with us, please let us know what additional information could have been included here that would have helped you so that we can do a better job of welcoming new staff each and every year. The absolute best thing you can do, however, is to contact returning staff members from your school. If you are reading this and still do not have any contact information from the school you are joining, please call the main number at our district office at 907-624-3611. There will be people working in our district office all summer long and we can help provide some numbers for you.
In case we forget to mention it anywhere else, one item you should bring with you is a sleeping bag. You will definitely need one at least twice in the month of August as you come to the New Teacher Orientation in Unalakleet and then attend one of our pod staff development in-services in one of the other communities. For in-district travel, it is quite common to stay in the school, so this does not have to be a -30°F sleeping bag, but should be one that packs up rather small.
Welcome again to the Bering Strait School District. We hope you are as excited for the year ahead as we are about you becoming part of our district. Remember, if you are having any difficulty getting in touch with people from your site, contact the District Office at 907-624-3611. We look forward to seeing you in August.
Moving to Alaska
Save for extreme cases, most people simply mail everything they need up to their community. Unless you have contacted returning school staff and they have helped you make alternative arrangements, we recommend you mail your packages to the school in care of yourself. For example, if you worked at the school in Shishmaref, you would address everything to:
Your Name Here
c/o Shishmaref School
Shishmaref, Alaska 99772
You can begin sending things up as soon as you are hired and continue to do so during the summer as there are school staff picking up mail all during the summer break. In most cases your boxes will be stored at the school until your arrival, but staff may actually store them in your housing unit. Most villages offer mail service at the USPS office 5-6 days a week. In general the address format listed above will be enough to get your packages safely to school. If you would like to contact your site or desire a more specific mailing address here is a list of School Addresses and Phone Numbers.
You definitely want to be aware of the fact that it can take 2-3 weeks for boxes mailed parcel post from the Lower 48 to arrive in our communities (even longer for Diomede). You can certainly mail things priority mail, but you pay a premium for that – better to get organized and mail things early. As for the weight of your packages, there are two schools of thought. The first being that the fewer boxes the better. There is some mathematical reasoning to back this up as well: it is cheaper to send one 40-pound box than two 20-pound boxes. Mind you, as long as it meets overall dimension criteria, the USPS will accept packages up to 70 pounds. The other school of thought is that it is likely a lot easier to get your package to the post office you are mailing it from than it will be for you to get it home in the village. Another consideration is that the heavier the box, the more awkward it is to handle and the more opportunities it will get dropped somewhere along the way (a LOT of people will handle your box from the time it leaves your community until it arrives in Savoonga, Wales or St. Michael). Folks in this camp shoot for boxes between 35-45 pounds knowing that they ultimately have to haul them all once they get to their village. Tape is cheap, much cheaper than replacing items that get lost when boxes explode for one reason or another. You also want to label your boxes clearly.
Flat Rate Boxes
The USPS has two sizes of flat rate boxes that are free to obtain and have only a $10-15 (depending on size) shipping fee (Fees periodically increase. Check the USPS flat rate page for current pricing.) no matter how heavy you pack it. I think there is a 70 lb limit. We have been doing a lot of shopping in the lower 48 where canned goods and such can be found on sale and shipping these to the village. One of these boxes can hold quite a few cans. Yes, this does mean you will have more boxes but the savings can add up. We compare this to stopping in Anchorage, paying higher prices, paying for a motel, and still paying for shipping. We think we might be saving some money and avoiding a big hassle. The postal clerks always comment on how much money we are saving when they weigh our boxes. We ship our larger, much lighter items the normal way and those boxes end up costing so much less without all the heavy items.
While several carriers come to Alaska, most of our staff soon begin flying with Alaska Airlines and their travel partners to build up frequent flyer miles. You can contact Alaska Airlines 800-426-0333. Once you get to Anchorage, staff who live in the southern part of the district (Stebbins, St. Michael, Unalakleet and Shaktoolik) have the option to fly into Unalakleet via Ravn Alaska, while those who live in the rest of the communities normally fly to Nome via Alaska Airlines. Once you are in either Unalakleet or Nome, you will need to utilize one of our local carriers to get to your community. You always want to personally verify your flights to Nome, Unalakleet and the village. Flight schedules change and it is your responsibility to keep track of this information. It is always a good idea to make your reservation through the Nome office of all carriers. Local carriers are:
Bering Air - serves all 15 communities in our district
800-478-5422 (Nome) 907-443-5464 (Nome) 907-624-3175
Ravn Alaska - daily flights from Anchorage to Unalakleet
Depending on the community and the flight, you may be on a plane which seats anywhere from 5 – 19 passengers. Planes may be single or twin-engine and some are turbine powered. You definitely want to be aware of baggage restrictions. Alaska Airlines and Ravn Alaska allow you to check two pieces which may not exceed 50 pounds each, while most of our regional carriers allow you to check 50 pounds total. Anything above and beyond that is considered excess baggage and you will have to pay between 60-90 cents per pound to take that baggage to your village. You obviously want to carefully consider what you are taking on the plane with you. Though you are certain to get sick of hearing it, all our travel is weather permitting. Flights can be cancelled for a variety of reason in any season: icing, fog, whiteout, mechanical, etc. There is no use getting upset because it will not make a difference. The pilots who fly in our region are very competent professionals. When they say they are not going to fly due to weather or that they are holding for weather to improve, just accept their decision. Most returning staff leave themselves an extra day when traveling in or out just in case delays occur.
Passing Through Anchorage
Every community in our district has at least one grocery or multipurpose store and many have more than one. Keep in mind that everything has to be flown in and this will affect both availability and price. Prices in your community stores are at least 50-75% above what you might pay in your hometown. Most of the stores work hard to keep produce and dairy items in stock, but these are popular items and they tend to go fast. Meat prices are also very high and the selection generally limited. In general, the individuals responsible for maintaining the stores in each of the communities are very accommodating and will order items they do not generally stock if you ask them. While many people in our communities do shopping in Anchorage and order things through the mail, we still recommend that you do some of your grocery shopping through the local stores, if for no other reason than it gives you more exposure to the community. It is good public relations for you to support local businesses to some degree and it gives you opportunities to meet more people in a setting other than the school.
Both Hanson’s (907-443-5454) and the Nome AC (907-443-2243) in Nome will help you set up accounts and will ship your groceries to you via one of the local air carriers. Recognize that all their stock is also flown in. Their prices may be a bit lower than what you will see in your community stores, but they should have a bit more available.
You can also set up accounts with Costco in Anchorage or Span Alaska Sales in Washington state. Both allow you to shop via the mail, fax, or internet and they box and mail your purchases. Fred Meyer now also ships to rural Alaska. They are fast and efficient and charge the same prices they do on the floor of their stores in Anchorage. They charge actual postage and a 10% handling fee that is very reasonable given how well they pack things and how quickly they get things out the door. In Unalakleet I normally receive my order within 3-5 days. They do a great job packing things up and it is very rare that anything is damaged in transit.
You will likely want to wait until you get to your community to order from either of these suppliers. It is likely there will be catalogs or flyers available around the school and it is quite normal for staff to get together in the early fall and make large caselot orders from these places to share. There are also at least two Anchorage sources that our staff use for meat orders:
Mr. Prime Beef 7521 Old Seward Hwy, Anchorage, 99518 - (907) 344-4066
Wayne’s Meat Market 1021 W Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage, 99503 - (907) 561-5135
Another option that many in rural Alaska take advantage of is Full Circle Farms in Washington State. They are a CSA and ship fresh fruits and vegetables to rural Alaska. They have outstanding customer service and understand that weather can play a part in the quality of items shipped to rural Alaska. If any damage is done to your produce, Full Circle has a top-notch customer service.
Most community members have signed up for Amazon Prime to take advantage of the bargain shipping deals.
Unless you have made other arrangements, all teacher housing is either owned or leased by the district and then leased back to staff at a subsidized rate which includes utilities. There are some villages where you can find homes to rent that are not run by the district. Shishmaref is the only community left in our district in which teacher housing does not include full plumbing (mind you, when we get winter storms with wind chill temperatures well below -50°F, it takes a lot of work to keep plumbing working sometimes…). All district housing has basic furnishings (beds, chairs, other furniture and major appliances). Housing units have limited freezer space and may share laundry facilities. It is your responsibility to provide your personal furnishing items like bedding, curtains, shower curtains, dishes, towels, small appliances, etc. It is a good idea to contact your principal or a returning staff member to try to determine what your residence is like and to find out exactly what you need to bring up with you.
All communities receive some television broadcasting. Some are limited to Alaska satellite programming (very limited choices – one channel only). Some villages operate a cable service (expect to pay upwards of $50 for 8-10 channels) and some offer other programs including Dish Network with over 100 channels. There are three main radio stations in the region: KICY & KNOM out of Nome and KNSA out of Unalakleet. Depending on your location, setup and atmospheric conditions, you may get other stations as well.
Returning staff members will be able to point you toward the number you need to call in order to establish phone service. Most carriers want some form of deposit in order to activate an account. Long distance service is expensive, so you we recommend purchasing a rechargeable calling card on your way up.
While you cannot access the school computer network from home, GCI internet service is available in every one of our communities. Pricing for this service is as follows: $59.99 for 256 Kbps/10,000 MB, $79.99 for 512 Kbps/15,000 MB, $119.99 for 1 Mbps/25,000 MB, and $169.99 2 Mbps/40,000 MB. Go to this URL for additional information:
Some communities also have access to Hughes Net. A few communities have opted to go with Excede Internet. There is typically a set-up fee, but the speed of the internet is worth the initial cost.
Alcohol in rural communities: Wet, Damp, and Dry
Most of the communities serviced by the Bering Strait School District are "dry" by local option. This means alcohol may not legally be bought, sold or imported (brought or sent into the community). Nome is the only "wet" community in the region, which means that adults may legally purchase alcohol from commercial sources. Unalakleet, White Mountain and Teller are the only "damp" communities in the region, which means that alcohol can be legally imported in limited quantities from recognized sources. Local airlines reserve the right to search any and all baggage they carry.
Professional attire is likely to be less formal than what you may be used it, but it also varies from one school to another. It is recommended that you visit with your principal or a returning staff member to find out what is appropriate at your school.
In fall and spring it can be wet and in many of our communities this can mean a good deal of mud, so you will want some rubber boots and raingear. Rain boots are easy to find in Anchorage, or you can buy them at home and bring them. Inexpensive "break up" boots cost between $15 and $30. The excellent “XtraTuf" brand made out of neoprene style rubber are very, very comfortable, but cost nearly $100 by the time you have them shipped out.
If you are bringing along any clothes that require dry cleaning - which is not recommended - you will want to mail up some of the home dry cleaning kits.
It is very difficult for anyone else to describe the clothing required to make it comfortably through the winter up here. It obviously depends on how much time you wish to spend outdoors. The best advice I have ever heard was to bring the warmest clothes you have and then look at what everyone else has.
People up here will help you figure out what you need and where you can place an order. The Alaska Teacher Placement website has some good recommendations on winter clothing, too.
Once the sun starts coming back in the spring and reflecting off all the snow and ice, one thing you are going to want is a pair of polarized sunglasses, for the glare can get quite intense.
There are as many opportunities for recreation as we have employees and of course they vary greatly from community to community. Each and every community will offer options in which you can participate, though the ability to be comfortable entertaining yourself is a great mid-winter attribute. Among our staff you will find those who enjoy: hunting, reading, hiking, sewing, fishing, listening to and making music, cards, photography, painting, skiing, running, watching movies and virtually any other normal pastime. Many, if not most staff members eventually purchase either an ATV or a snowmobile (though once you get here we call them snowmachines) for traveling in and around their community. Staff from your community can provide guidance for you in terms of what would be most appropriate in your community. Expect to pay roughly $6,000 for either. Snowmachines and ATVs can be ordered from and financed through entities in both Nome and Anchorage. This again is a purchase that may be best left until you have spent at least a little time in your village so you have a better idea of what will work best for you (truly, it is not a good thing to show up with a brand new Polaris ATV in a Honda village).
In many of our communities there are rules, regulations and possibly fees for non-residents who wish to use the land for recreational purposes. In addition to visiting about this with returning staff members, it is strongly recommended that you contact the local Native Corporation or IRA in person regarding this once you arrive in your community.
Opportunities for staff members to hunt and fish vary greatly from one community to another. You should be aware that Alaska requires 12 months of residency to qualify for a resident license and that non-resident licenses are much more expensive. If you are interesting in participating in fishing and hunting you should:
Check out your options with returning staff members to your school
Check with airlines regarding the transport of weapons
Check on the availability of licenses (these are generally always available in Anchorage, Nome and Unalakleet)
Pets are nice to have and you may find it difficult to not bring a current pet with you. Please pay attention to the pet clause of your district housing agreement. You are required to pay $20 a month for each pet you have on district property (up to a maximum of 3 pets). This money does stay in an account for your school, to be used to purchase additional furnishings above and beyond that which the district furnishes and to repair any pet damage. Please check carefully with your principal though, as some of our housing units specifically forbid pets. Should you bring a pet with you, there are a few things of which you need to be aware. When outside, dogs should be on a leash or tied up. In most of our communities, loose dogs may be put down. Dogs and cats need to be transported in carriers and the local air carriers will charge you for hauling pets and you definitely want to let them know you are bringing a pet when you make your reservation. You will also need documentation that your pets are current on all vaccinations. There are veterinary services available in Nome.
Each and every community has health clinic that is staffed by health aides who receive initial and ongoing training through the regional hospital in Nome. These clinics also have 24-hour access to the medical staff in Nome and have limited pharmacies for basic needs. Several of the clinics are staffed by Physician’s Assistants. There is a regional hospital in Nome and a sub-regional clinic in Unalakleet. Severe cases are medevaced to Anchorage. There is dental care available in both Nome and Unalakleet. If you take medication on a regular basis, you will want to contact our Business Office so they might refer you to a pharmacy that services our region.
Flights are expensive and schedules very busy when you first arrive, so you want to make certain you have your pre-employment physical completed before you come up.
Perhaps the best thing you can do when you come to one of our communities is to remember that you are moving into a small town which is probably quite a bit unlike any you have known in your life. It is your responsibility to learn how to fit into the community. Do not be quick to pass judgment on things which are unfamiliar or which you do not understand. This actually transcends cultural boundaries – this is just a good sense anytime you are moving into a small town. Take the time to learn about your community and its residents. While you are going to be very busy those first few months, take the time to get out and walk around, go to the post office, store and other public areas in town. Meet people and start to get to know more about them as they begin to know more about you. While your role in town is largely defined by your job, it is important for you to develop relationships that go beyond the walls of the school or your housing unit. Consider taking the time to volunteer to host small "get-togethers" like crafting nights or movie nights.
The Inupiat, Central Yu’pik, and St. Lawrence Island Yu’pik people have occupied this area for centuries. The culture is rich and varied and, despite reports to the contrary, still very much in effect. It has certainly changed, but you would be mistaken if you thought that your village was simply a rural Alaskan community as opposed to an Inupiat, Central Yu’pik or St. Lawrence Island Yu’pik village. You are not expected to abandon your values and assimilate those of the community, but to be open to learning about the values of the community and reflect upon how they impact your job as a teacher.
While almost all our students begin school speaking English, Inupiaq and Yu’pik is still widely used in many of our communities. Most of the people who are in their late 40’s or older grew up speaking Yu’pik or Inupiaq. These languages may still the primary language for many of the elders in your community, and, though they may speak to you in English, they are thinking in their first language and translating into English for your benefit. There are many local colloquialisms that may prove puzzling initially, but you will quickly become accustomed to this. These speech patterns are possibly the result of a literal translation of Yu’pik or Inupiaq to English: languages that do not mesh neatly. It is not a mission in our district to eradicate these speech patterns, for they are valid and accepted forms of communication. We do, however, use specific lessons to point out the importance of being able to communicate at a variety of levels and in a variety of situations. It may be helpful to pick up or look through a book or two on English as a Second Language in order to prepare yourself.
It may take you a while to become accustomed to the communication patterns in your community. Nonverbal communication is very important. As a sign of deference, in some villages students may not look you in the eye while addressing you. You may find children in your classroom raising their eyebrows and scrunching up their noses at you from your first day. They are not making faces at you, they are just answering yes or no (raised eyebrows for yes, scrunched up noses for no). Some people say that you will know that you are truly feeling comfortable in this environment when you find yourself unconsciously answering in the same manner. In general, the people in this region communicate in a much more relaxed manner than people from the lower 48. They are comfortable with silence and do not generally feel the need to fill conversational gaps. They also seek to avoid losing their temper. If you find yourself in a potential confrontation remember to stay calm and focus on the crux of the issue. Outspokenness is not necessarily an admired character trait. Be cautious expressing strong opinions, especially regarding the community or the people, until you have had a chance to acclimate yourself and have gotten to know several people. The most important communication tool you have at your disposal during your first few months is your ability to listen.
Fall is generally fairly mild, with a good deal of rain and wind. At the beginning of the school year you will have a great deal of daylight. Depending on how early you arrive, it might not actually reach full darkness, instead hovering at something similar to deep dusk for a few hours. Temperatures can get low enough that you might even see some snowflakes toward the end of September, but this will quickly melt. Sometime between Halloween and Thanksgiving, things will begin to freeze, the snow will start to stick and the snowmachines replace the ATVs. This is the beginning of a long winter. We lose between five to seven minutes of daylight each day. In the middle of winter you will come to school in the dark and go home in the dark. We get a few hours of weak sunlight during the middle of the day that offers virtually no warmth. Winter brings very low temperatures; it is not uncommon to see -30°F or even -40°F several times during winter. The wind blows during winter as well, and wind chill temperatures may reach -60°F or lower several times during the winter. You need to be prepared to be out in these conditions long enough to get to school. If you choose not to buy a Honda or snow machine, it means that you will have to walk to school in this weather. In some villages, this can be a fairly short distance, if the teacher housing is located near the school. However, in villages where the distance between the housing and the school is greater, you will obviously have to spend a longer time outside, trudging through the snow and ice, to get to the school. The importance of warm winter gear cannot be stressed enough. A warm parka, snow pants, hat, scarf, gloves, snow boots, and ice cleats will become necessary items in your wardrobe.
You will need to remember that, as is the case with many factors of living in Bush Alaska, all travel is done at the mercy of the weather, which means that there is a small chance that you won't always make it to Anchorage in time to make connections, if you plan on flying to the Lower 48 for the holiday break. Likewise, if you do travel somewhere, be prepared to have your stay extended, if the weather is not cooperating for your return back to the village. Days can go by without planes coming in to deliver mail or shipments for the local store.
After the winter solstice we gain daylight at the same rate we lost it in the fall. By March temperatures are climbing and you will marvel at how warm 0°F feels after you have survived the winter. Spring can bring gorgeous days filled with sunshine and gentle breezes, but it also brings fog and the occasional blizzard. There are multiple websites you can find through Google which provide up-to-the-minute weather information for most of our region. The district website has a weather page that also contains multiple links and resources related to regional weather.
Relocation Advice From Those Who Really Know
That ends the basic info package, but there obviously has to be more to it than that. There is an old saying that opinions are like something else that everyone has, but in Alaska, opinions are like fishing poles; everyone has several and we have collected them through the years as we gain experience and knowledge. Lots of folks have moved to our region. They come from a variety of places and for a variety of reasons, but they all had to make that initial transition.
Tales of Trials, Travails and Travel: Hints, Tips and Need-to-Knows
When I first moved to rural Alaska, I had no idea of the amount of food that I would need to get me through. I was teaching in a small village of 200 people, with only one store, which sold mostly candy and pop, and the prices for everything on the shelves were outrageous. I had never shopped in bulk before, at least not to the degree that is required for living in rural Alaska. My husband and I bought what we thought was a lot of food and shipped it out, spending a few hundred dollars. Our groceries filled five large boxes. We thought we were set! Boy, we couldn't have been more wrong. The five large boxes lasted us two weeks. Having just moved from Montana, where teacher's salaries are meager, and after paying the couple of thousand of dollars for moving expenses, my husband and I didn't have the kind of money stuck away to do a large mail order at that time. We also hadn't had a credit card, up to that point, which we learned was a necessity in Alaska. We bought enough to get by at the local store, until I received my first check and was able to do a large grocery order. So, my advice is to make sure that you have enough money to buy A LOT of food - especially if you are in a small village with a limited selection at the local store. Also, get a credit card! You will frequently find yourself in Anchorage, needing to shop, and renting a car is much cheaper than paying for a cab. Some places will allow you to rent a car with a debit card, but they typically put a $300-400 hold on your card, which can sometimes take up to a month to be credited back to your account, upon return of the car. And, if you find yourself in a situation of needing to do a large grocery order, a credit card is a definite necessity! Just some advice from a once young and naive girl from small-town Montana...
"Wish I Would Have Packed"
In my excitement and haste last year I skipped over a few details. I thought I had everything planned out and organized, only to realize that once I got to my village I forgot to pack a few necessities in my suitcase! You will probably arrive before all of your boxes make it. PLUS, you don't want to be digging through your boxes on your first night in your new place (trust me, you'll be too exhausted and excited). SO, I wish I would have packed in my suitcase a small, easy meal or two (canned soup, can opener, bowl?), bed sheets, and basic cleaning supplies. Your unit will most likely be clean before you arrive, but I like to wipe things down anyways. Keep in mind if you arrive later in the day the village store may not be open.