2 April, 2001
St. Lawrence Island is a small island located 200 miles southwest of Nome but only 40 miles southeast of Siberia. The island is an irregular shaped piece of land 104 miles long and 20 miles wide. The island is actually a spit, which juts out to the left of the mountain. There are approximately 600 people that live in Gambel. There is another community on St. Lawrence Island called Savoonga.
The Gambell school day starts at 8:15 for breakfast with school beginning at 8:45. The four year olds leave at 1:15, the five year olds leave at 2:00, and the 3 year old arrive at 11:15 and stay until 2:45. First grade through fifth grade goes home at 2:45. The other grades dismiss at 3:30. There are approximately 200 children and 16 faculty members. The 3-5 year olds and kinders make up at least one fourth of the school. This department is called "Kinderland". The school is about four years old and has new and modern facilities. There is a very large room right inside the front door that is used for bundling up and removing cold weather clothing. There are many fascinating and wonderful art pieces displayed in cases in the hall making a museum-like appearance. These pieces depict the heritage and culture of Gambell. It has been very interesting to study.
I began the day by dressing as warmly as possible and climbing onto a four wheeler with my gear for the day. In order to ride on a four wheeler in the snow, each person has to hold on tight. I usually shut my eyes. I take my glasses off prior to getting on because they freeze! I was told to let the driver know right away if I fell off. We quickly arrived at the school. There are many four wheelers parked in front of the school. The wind and temperatures are bitter out. It was approximately 65 degrees below zero. The main problem we experienced was the severe wind. Blizzard conditions, a whiteout occurred most of the day. Many children stayed home as a result of the weather, others left early in the afternoon.
I had an opportunity to read books and share experiences of life on the ship with the children. They were very interested in the helo ride as many saw it arrive. They also enjoyed learning about the animals that we had collected from the bottom of the ocean. I was able to show the children lots of pictures on my computer. I had lunch with the children and had many opportunities to share life in Tennessee.
We rode home on a four wheeler driven by the principal. The weather was getting extremely bad. I was glad he knew the way to our house. Visibility was just a few feet. We arrived home and prepared to go to dinner with our new teacher friends. We decided to walk to their apartment. Boy that was an experience! I felt like "Brave Irene" in William Steigís book by that title. This is a childrenís book in which Irene braves the winter blizzard! If you havenít read the book, check it out! Dinner was again a tasty feast of fish, vegetables, salad, and bread. We were all tired and it was nice to sit down relax and visit. We did leave about 9:30, before dark (which is pretty late usually around 11:00) to enable us to get home. Our hostesses provided rides home on their snow machines. Many elders in the community checked to make sure we had arrived back safely. It was really nice seeing so many people caring about our safety. Once home, we quickly settled down for the night.
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