Alaska Gateway Schools rock! I had such a wonderful time at their Young Author Conference!
Did I mention that the school district is twice the size of New Hampshire? Our eager young authors, grades 3-8, came from all over: Dot Lake, Tok, Tanacross, Katie John School in Mentasta Lake, Walter Northway School, and Tetlin. By the end of the conference, all had written sloppy copies (yay!) and final drafts of their own books of original poems. Hopefully I will be able to share some of the poems in my next blog. But let’s back up a bit…
Wednesday: The flight from CA to Fairbanks included two stops, and a seat mate on pain meds (too many…) who would have passed out in the middle of the SeaTac airport if I hadn’t flagged down an attendant and propped her up in one of those mini-trams to get her to her connecting flight. (Nice woman. NEVER mix alcohol with pain meds…). The highlight: an amazing sunset at 10:20 pm (11:20 pm, CA time, on my Elmo watch.) off the left wing of the plane. Ink black sky off to the right at the same time!
When I landed in Fairbanks snow flurries had just begun, which was perfect because when I think of Alaska, I think SNOW. I was expecting COLD too but 28 degrees in Alaska felt warmer than 40 degrees in California. Seriously. And I NEVER expected to ask people to turn the heat down! (Maybe they’d cranked it up for the CA woman…)
Thursday Morning 6:45am: Met Rich, my fabulous "chauffeur," (who subs as a bus driver, school cook, tour guide, and from what I can tell, mentor/parent) in the lobby the next morning. Made sure I knew his last name ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to go up to strange men and ask, "Are you Rich?" !!!! For the visual, he showed up in a regular cotton t-shirt and jeans–no jacket, mittens, hat, gloves–nada. Impressive.
On our three hour ride to Tok, we passed through North Pole–smart folks built a post office there–and I had Santa send my nephew a post card to make sure he was eating his dinner and being a good big brother.
Saw miles of Pipeline sending oil (146 degrees!) to the "lower 48."
And voila! The sun came out as we headed up the Alcan Highway to Tok.
Check out these mountains! Isn’t it amazing where books will take you? Ifelt so blessed!
Thursday afternoon I did an assembly in Tok for the K-2 kids and then we headed to Dot Lake to meet the young authors! (Side note: The kids go out to play at recess even when the temp is below zero here. Teachers make sure they all have hats, mittens, jackets, etc. before they head outside! In winter, when they’re down to a few hours of sunlight, those hours are during the school day, so they don’t have to play in the dark.)
Kicked off the Young Author Conference with a keynote, a little elbow tag, and some ice breakers before heading back to my hotel in Tok for the night. [My other option, sleeping on the gym floor with the kids–been there, done that. : ) ] Rode back with a couple of our authors and "Pink" and I had a contest to see who had more items of their favorite color.(Mine:green. Pink’s: guess.)
I was hoping to get a glimpse of Aurora Borealis but the sky was overcast both nights. (Bought this post card instead. Doesn’t look real, does it?) Guess I’ll have to come back to see it another time!
Friday: Didn’t see a moose either (I’d heard tales of dodging moose on the highway.) but we did come across crazy caribou on our way back to Dot Lake for the conference. (Actually, the caribou came across us.) These gangly dudes look like someone put together random body parts from moose, deer, and possibly the brain of a squirrel…(Check out the middle one who couldn’t make up his mind which way to go after two of his buddies went one way and one went the other.)
The halls of Dot Lake School were decorated with posters by Tanacross teacher Bonnie and her talented students– clever takes on nursery rhyme characters–in honor of Goldie and Bo Peep! Aren’t these fun? (Click on thumbnail to get a larger view.)
The Alaska Gateway Young Author Conference was a fabulous way to encourage young writers. (And there were some good ones!) Four other teachers and I taught poetry workshops and the kids rotated through each. We wrote poker poems and 1st line/last line poems in mine. At the end of the conference, each writer went home with a conference t-shirt, photo button of their group, medal, certificate, their original book of poems, and big smiles! An added plus–they made new friends from the other schools!
Congrats to the teachers and all who organized this successful event. You are making such a difference in the lives of your students! It was an experience they’ll never forget–and I won’t either! Even if the only moose I saw was on this postcard : )
Friday after the conference, my "chauffeur" and his wife drove me back to Fairbanks, retracing our route through North Pole, and past rivers beginning to thaw from the long winter.
An Alaskan tourist web site call Tok, "The coldest inhabited town in Alaska, with the warmest friendliest people." They got the second part right anyway.
I had a 1:30 AM red-eye to catch Saturday morning so I passed the time Friday night at the Fairbanks airport working on my middle grades manuscript. Met a guy from Oahu, and another who was flying to Okinawa, slept 3 hours (I think) on the plane (1:30-4:30 am) then stretched out for two more in the Sea-Tac airport (6:30-8:30 am) before my flight home. would you believe I came home to 90 degree weather? Crazy! There’s no place like home. And you know what? There’s no place like Alaska!