Klukwan high schoolers prepare for next steps

Two of Klukwan School’s high school students are either graduating or moving after this year. The high school/junior high teacher is also leaving.

Some Klukwan teens choose to go to bigger schools in Haines, Sitka or Juneau. Kaitlyn Stevens and Joseph Lamberty chose to stay in the small, 13-student K-12 school. They’re the only students in their class this year.

Lamberty lives in Mosquito Lake, Stevens lives in Klukwan. She says when she first started school here, there were more kids. It’s slowly shrunk over the years.

“It’s pretty sad,” Stevens said. “The school has just always been here and not a lot of people have wanted to stay here because it was so small and it just kept getting smaller.”

“A lot of kids get to a point where they just want to have athletics and clubs and activities,” said Klukwan’s 6-12 grade teacher Carson Buck. “And as much as we try, we can’t offer everything a big school has to offer.”

Buck says last year, he had nine students. This year, it’s just these two. He says once students get older, a lot of them transfer from Klukwan to Haines School, Mt. Edgecumbe Boarding School in Sitka, or a Juneau school.

But Stevens and Lamberty stayed.

“It’s really relaxed, there’s like no stress involved,” Lamberty said about Klukwan School.

He says some days, if the weather is nice, he, Stevens and Mr. Buck will go skip rocks on the river, or just go on a walk. Or, if there’s something they need extra time on, they can shift around the schedule. With only two students, the teaching can be super individualized.

“There haven’t been many times where I wished I was in a big school, because I like it a lot here,” said Stevens. “I like having the one-on-one attention, and it’s easier to get work done.”

Stevens did try going to a bigger school her sophomore year. She went to Mt. Edgecumbe for a semester. But she says it was difficult to keep on track. She wasn’t learning the way she does here. So she came back her second semester.

Their teacher has also helped keep them here.

“I might’ve switched schools had Mr. Buck not been teaching here,” Lamberty said. “But he’s an awesome teacher, so that was a pretty big part of the decision.”

“That’s great to hear,” said Buck. “I see them in sixth grade, when they’re 12 years old. And I see them leave at 18, so you get pretty attached. They’re almost like your own kids after a while.”

Buck is from Haines, and he started teaching in Klukwan in 2008. He says it was a steep learning curve – teaching almost every subject to students in a six-year age range. The small number of students means he can really help them on a one-to-one level. But it’s not all good.

“It’s bad in that you see the same kids every day for six or seven years straight. And they need variety. And I think it’s good that they’re both moving on. I can only give them so much, they need to have other experiences besides just one teacher. So that’s the dark side of it.”

Buck says they try to expose the students to as much as possible outside of school walls and village boundaries. Stevens and Lamberty recently went on two field trips. One was a transition camp trip to Juneau, where they job shadowed at Sealaska, NOAA, the Coast Guard. Right after that, they traveled with Gustavus high school students on boat trip to Glacier Bay.

Stevens is a senior. She’s graduating and going to University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau to study biology. She hopes to become a physical therapist.

“My grandma, her shoulder was hurt and she needed help with her exercises one night,” Stevens explained. “I helped her, and I’ve been wanting to do that ever since, because I like helping people.

Lamberty is a junior, but he won’t be finishing high school in Klukwan next year. He’s moving to Oregon, where most of his family lives. He says the high school he’ll attend there has about 100 students, much more than he’s used to. But he says he’s not too worried about that.

As for Buck, his position at the school is being cut. Klukwan and Gustavus schools Principal Nancy Moon says the needs of the school will be mainly elementary students next year. Kathy Carl, who is qualified to teach special education, high school and elementary, will take over high school classes.

Buck says teaching at Klukwan School wasn’t always easy, but it was “a really good time.”

“There’s a sense of community here that I’ve never felt anywhere else,” Buck said. “Growing up in Haines, I didn’t really get to know the people of Klukwan well. But since teaching here it was a really, really good experience.”

The Klukwan School graduation and promotion ceremony is Friday at 5 p.m. in the ANS Hall. As the only senior, Stevens will be the graduate speaker.