Two students and a teacher from Girdwood, in the nation’s capital for the lighting of an Alaskan Christmas tree, acted as cultural ambassadors today, explaining all things Alaskan to a group of Washington school children.
Miner Elementary School is just two miles from the U.S. Capitol, but it’s in a neighborhood that doesn’t see many tourists. And the students at Miner don’t get to tour outside their city much. So it was a special event when three Alaskans walked in to Ms. Hicks’ 4th grade class
They are Nolan Quigley, a 7th grader at Girdwood School; Jack Hickox, a 4th grader at the same school; and Molly Hickox, who teaches fifth grade there.
Molly Hickox participates in a Forest Service education program, and she thought it’d be a good idea to connect with a local classroom while they’re in Washington for the lighting of a tree cut from the Chugach National Forest. They showed the class a slideshow with maps to explain where the tree came from and how it travelled to D.C. The Washington kids though, were most interested in the pictures of Girdwood, and in animals.
One child noticed that the Girdwood map showed a drawing of a bear right by where Nolan said his house was. Wasn’t Nolan scared?
The Alaskans explained that sometimes recess is cancelled if there’s an animal on the playground, but they said maulings are rare. Hickox, the Girdwood teacher, explained the importance of wildlife safety rules and bear-proof garbage cans.
“That’s why we spend a lot of time teaching everyone how to be safe around the animals. There
aren’t any animals that are out to get you,” she said. Most of the children reached their hands high, eager to ask questions. Ms. Hickox called on one, reading his name tag.
“Do y’all ever ride on the bear or moose or something?”
Jack and Nolan answered that question and dozens more. The Washington kids were fascinated by the last picture in the slideshow, of Jack on Mt. Alyeska.
“That’s a picture of me skiing,” he said.
The class gasped at the picture of a boy in a helmet and goggles, holding his ski edges parallel to the fall line to pose for a photo, with Girdwood and Turnagain Arm below. The kids asked a lot about that.
“I have a question about when Jack was skiing,” one girl asked. “Was that a class trip, or was that just on the weekend?”
Jack and Nolan explained that they ski lots on weekends, and Fridays after school, even on special Thursday afternoons when Girdwood school lets out early so everybody can ski. After the presentation, some kids hung around the Alaskan boys with more questions. Others tried to fathom these animals they heard about.
“I think a moose is as big as a deer,” one said.
“Yeah, a deer. Or maybe a polar bear,” said another one. That drew a sharp rebuke.
“No, not a polar bear! A polar bear is huge, girl!”
Some thought it might be scary to go to Alaska.
“I’d be afraid of a bear because if I didn’t know what to do for a bear, I would probably get eaten,” a girl said.
The Washington 4th graders, though, think nothing of riding the subway or public bus by themselves. Some do it every morning, to get to school, and some bring siblings even younger on public transport. They said they couldn’t imagine why some Alaskans think big cities aren’t safe.
“I don’t know why they would think it’s scary,” said one child. “Because, I mean, the city, it’s not scary because they don’t have dangerous stuff like bears. The city, it has mostly birds, cats, dogs and squirrels and stuff.”
Off to the side of the classroom, Washington teacher Dianna Hicks was beaming. Hicks says she’s all about bridging the culture gaps.
“I love to see different cultures together,” she said. “I love seeing the children enjoying each other, finding out that you may look different but we have things in common. I can see all of them are really enamored right now of Jack and Nolan. … So they’re learning about the world. I want them to see things outside D.C. because so many of my children don’t leave their neighborhoods.”
A group called Choose Outdoors raised corporate contributions to bring the tree from Alaska to the Capitol. Sponsors, including Alaska Airlines, also covered the cost of the trip for the Girdwood trio.