Teaching in a village like Pilot Point is a very unique experience as educators wear more than one hat to inspire every student to believe that can do anything they put their mind to.
Welcome to Pilot Point School where there's no shortage of methods for a student to learn. Nine students, ranging from grades Kindergarten to 12th grade, attend this schoolhouse-style approach to teaching.
Elementary teacher Matthew Grossman and secondary teacher Troy Roberts have become a jack-of-all-trades, combining group work and individualized learning.
“You have to figure out ways to reach kindergarten students in the same room with a 6th grader and teach them math while the other is doing social studies,” said Roberts.
“There is almost never one thing going on at one time,” added Grossman.
But that's not to say it's without challenges.
“You’re a bit of a circus act some days and other days you feel like it went incredibly smooth and you reached everybody at their level a little bit and that's what success looks like in this kind of system,” said Roberts.
As one of 12 Bristol Bay Region schools in the Lake and Peninsula School District, the Pilot Point School is tucked away on the Ugashik Bay shore. Teachers here have learned to be flexible with the limited resources. The village averages around 68 residents.
“The con is that I’m the only one, and I don’t have any support staff,” said Grossman.
Grossman says sometimes he has to teach the same subject to multiple grade levels at the same time.
“The younger kids are getting what the older kids are hearing, the older kids, when I’m teaching to the younger kids, it kind of reinforces," he said.
Standardized testing also poses problems for Pilot Point kids who don't have the same experiences as urban students.
“Our students are different from kids in other communities because they are so rural and so remote, even though they have TV and Internet and movies, that still doesn't replace things like going for a car ride. They don't know what it’s like to put on a seat belt,” said Grossman. “Some of the stories talk about 'Joe and Suzy went downtown.' I’ve had kids ask me what's downtown?"
While grading students in rural Alaska can be tough, grading the teachers is equally difficult.
“When you think of 25% of my effort will make it onto a page that the state and federal government will look at and determine how successful I was as a teacher, what about the 75%, the other time that I spent, there is no reflection on that.” said Roberts, who reflects on opportunities he's had to educate each student even when it comes unexpectedly.
“That kid is like, 'Let's do some math' and I’m like, 'Yeah, let's do some math,' because this is an opportunity for us to grow and that's a success.”
Teachers credit a true village partnership. But despite the success, the school faces the threat of closure nearly every year.
“With our current numbers we are in danger of not opening school next year and that's a frightening thing for the village, to live here with kids and have the possibility of your school not opening in the fall,” said Roberts.
The state requires the school must have at least ten students to receive state funding.
“We are blessed to live in a community that takes care of themselves, they have high standards for their kids, they support us, they support the school,” said Roberts.