Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Enrollment steady, 5 new teachers on as school bell rings


August 25, 2011

Students at Haines School were greeted by five new teachers Monday on the first day of school.

New second-grade teacher Sophia Armstrong was born and raised in Anchorage. She received an associate’s degree in early childhood development from University of Alaska Anchorage and her bachelor’s degree at Alaska Pacific University. She is currently working on her master’s degree.

Armstrong taught in Anchorage for six years in grades first through fifth, although she said the earliest grades are her favorite. "I just like elementary the best because they can learn how to do so much. From the first of the year to the end of the year they make so much growth."

Armstrong said she strives to instill independence and a hard work ethic in her students. "That will help them their whole lives," she said.

Although raised in Anchorage, Armstrong said she had never visited Southeast until a few years ago. Her husband, Reilly Kosinski, works for an electronic recycling company and came to visit Haines during the annual electronic recycling event. The couple enjoyed Haines and last year decided to try making a go of moving here.

Karen Henspeter grew up in Copper Valley near Glennallen, but just arrived from another continent to teach fourth grade. Henspeter has been teaching fourth grade in the South American country Suriname the past four years. The small country is located in northern South America, bordering Brazil. Henspeter taught international students at a school using an American curriculum and school year.

She moved to Suriname to teach shortly after graduating in elementary education from Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. She didn’t think she would stay as long as four years in Suriname, but said she is also glad to be closer to home. "I always wanted to come back and teach in Alaska."

Henspeter said she enjoys teaching the fourth-grade age group because the students are beginning to become more independent as they anticipate middle school, but at the same time they are concerned with the entire classroom community and keeping the class working as a team.

"I think fourth grade is an important transition year," Henspeter said. "The students are starting to be more independent, yet there is still a lot of amazing learning that can go on."

Henspeter hadn’t been to Haines before, but she accepted the teaching position after her family had already planned to visit Southeast and hike the Chilkoot Trail. She said she is impressed with the school and especially the welcoming staff. And, having grown up in Copper Valley, Henspeter said she’s not concerned about living and working in a small town. "I get the small town life," she said. "And I like it."

Darwin Feakes came from East Glacier, Mont., where he taught for 23 years in Browning, the heart of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. The new vocational education teacher, Feakes said he always wanted to live and work in Alaska and last year with a change in administration at his previous school, he decided to start looking for teaching jobs in Alaska. He visited Haines for the first time in early June, after accepting the high school job.

Feakes said he hopes to teach students vocational skills they can use whether or not they continue with a vocational occupation. "My hope is to help the kids learn job-ready skills, skills they can take away from school and use."

Feakes said he is impressed with the quality and condition of the equipment in the voc-ed department at the school. "I was surprised by the equipment, especially for the size of the school."

Feakes’ eldest daughter lives in Texas. His youngest daughter is in her senior year in high school in Montana so his wife and daughter are staying there for the school year.

Daniel Johnston isn’t new to Haines Elementary School; he worked as a one-on-one aide last year at the school. This year he has a one-year contract to teach elementary special education while teacher Naomi Buck is on leave.

Johnston came to Haines from Texas for a visit in 2007 and then came for the last few summers to work as a guide at Glacier Point. He taught special education for six years in Texas, with a break during that time to teach English for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan.

Johnston focused on special education during his teacher training and specialized in behavior. He said he enjoys working with students who need to access specific resources to succeed.

"I enjoy advocating for people who need someone to stand up for them when faced with accessing those services," he said. Like any teacher, he also enjoys seeing students achieve and gain knowledge. "I enjoy that teachable moment, watching the light bulb come on."

Kerry McIver hails from Ohio and came to teach in high school math and elementary physical education. McIver started out in college as a math major and went on to receive her master’s for teaching. She said she substitute taught and tutored throughout college and worked as an aide last year.

While McIver finds math interesting, she knows her students may not always feel the same. But she said she wants students to have the math skills that can help them in everyday life.

"I want all the kids to learn some math," she said. "It makes them better adapted to learn something new." She said if she can get students to enjoy math, they are more apt to use those skills throughout life. "Most students just don’t realize how much math is used all the time and behind the scenes of everyday life."

McIver has lived in Ohio since early childhood. As a recent graduate, she said she wanted to take this time to try something new and find a teaching job somewhere she had never been. McIver arrived a week before school started. Her sister decided to move to Haines with McIver and was on her way to Haines via the Alaska Highway.