Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Visiting Galena, Alaska

View of Yukon River near Galena from the air

As part of the statewide accreditation process for Alaskan schools, teams of 3-5 people visit each school or school district (depending on whether it is the school or district being accredited) and spend an intense 3 days reviewing materials, visiting classrooms, interviewing community members, students, teachers and school board members, and preparing reports on their decision.

Douglas was asked to be part of the accreditation team for Galena, a bush school district west of Fairbanks on the Yukon River. The town of 400 has a K-12 community school, a grades 9-12 boarding school on a now-closed military base, and a homeschooling school. There are 4000 students in this district between those three schools, though most of those students are homeschooled elsewhere in the state.

The process for getting to Galena was so typical of Alaskan travel:  fly to Anchorage, then fly to Fairbanks, stay overnight in a hotel, then fly to Galena Sunday morning. The earliest flight wouldn't have gotten them there before 11 a.m. on Monday, so they had to come in a day early. The 7-seater plane from Fairbanks to Galena takes an hour and a half to make the trip, and upon arriving the luggage is loaded on a tractor (seen to the left of the terminal in the picture below), parked next to the terminal and folks pick up their luggage from the tractor. Pretty casual baggage claim!

The terminal is the small building with the two spruce trees growing in front of it (the larger building to the right of it is a hanger)

The Galena airport terminal is fairly small and rustic

A panorama view of the Galena airport terminal

There are 400 people who live in Galena, 100 employees who work in the school and about 300 kids in the two physical schools (84 in the village school and 200+ in the boarding school). The schools are a significant aspect of the community's economy. There is a police station, two grocery stores, a coffee shop, a place they call the Liquor Store, and not much else. A couple years ago the Yukon River flooded when an ice dam broke in a sudden spring thaw and the entire town was flooded besides the base, which was protected by a dike that was built 20 or 30 years ago after the last flood. The entire town moved to Fairbanks for a month when the village was flooded a few years ago. At that time all the buildings were under water up to about 5 feet, and even today there are watermarks on many of the buildings in town.

The Iditarod goes through Galena each winter, and the town is situated on the Yukon River, but besides those and the schools, I don't think the town has any claim to fame. One of my cousins and her husband lived and taught in Galena for 7 years and raised 3 children there, so I know they have roads and cars (if I recall, an 8-mile road to the dump), and they trapped lots of different animals in the winter. The temperatures are normally well below zero at this time of year, but it was unseasonably warm and dipped to -2 at the lowest, and was into the teens during the day. My cousin and her family loved Galena and it was a tough decision to leave, but at $500 plus for a plane ticket to Anchorage, that adds up for a family of 5, and they had outgrown my cousin's 4-seater plane that she had a pilot's license for. When they heard Doug was going to Galena they sent some fresh food and gifts with him for friends--knowing how coveted and expensive those things are.

The Boarding School (Old Military Base)

To the left, the commissioned officers building, an activity building in the foreground, and the non-commissioned officers building (student dorms) behind it

The dining hall for the boarding school and visitors

This is now called the Iditarod Headquarters building--Commissioned Officers housing which is like a hotel

Picture of Doug's room in the commissioned officers building

Since there is no hotel, Douglas and the rest of the team stayed in the Commissioned Officers Housing, which is basically like a hotel room. The kids stay in the Non-Commissioned Officers dorms. The military pulled out of Galena in 2008 and the boarding school took it over, drawing students from around the bush of interior Alaska.

The snowmachines are owned by the school district for a Wilderness Survival class

The Community School

There are 84 students in the Kindergarten through 12th grade school. The buildings are all built up on pilings to avoid melting the permafrost, but the school has the additional feature of fans that diffuse the warm air escaping from the buildings so that it doesn't melt the permafrost. 

A metal and wood Athabascan-design decoration in the hall of the school
The front entrance to the school

Note the fins on the pilings that blow the air and keep the warm air from the building from melting the permafrost

Pipes and air ducts are above ground to avoid melting the permafrost. This structure between buildings was under water during the flooding a few years ago

The kindergarten classroom in the community school
Playground of K-12 school

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