March 1, 2012 | Vol. 42 No. 8

Mosquito Lake School may struggle to stay open in fall

Mosquito Lake School faces the prospect of dropping below required enrollment this fall, forcing the school to close the doors on the students and teachers who rely on their close-knit school community.

Haines Borough School District Superintendent Michael Byer held a meeting with Mosquito Lake School parents on Feb. 16. Discussion included whether the school will be able to maintain a minimum enrollment of 10 students in October, when official school counts are conducted. If the school cannot, the state will no longer include a factor in the funding formula that helps pay for the infrastructure of maintaining a separate school. According to Byer, closing the school would mean a loss of $200,000 in state funding for the district.

Enrollment has been low in recent years, worrying the district and parents that it may shut, but Byer said the community has always rallied to keep it going since it began in 1983.

Kathy Holmes has been Mosquito Lake’s teacher for six years. She works with aide Margaret McLaughlin to teach grades kindergarten through fourth grade this year, although she said the school can host up to eighth grade.

Holmes said most of the students live on Mosquito Lake Road, but also include one student from near the U.S.-Canadian border and one from 18 Mile on the Haines Highway.

Holmes said the small number of students allows her to spend quality time with each one.

“I try to educate each one at their ability level,” she said. “Everyone has their own education plan that’s very individualized.”

The small class size is one reason parents like Aimee Jacobson enjoy the school for their children. Jacobson has two children attending the school this year, a fourth- and first-grader. The family decided to send their fourth-grader to Haines School next year. But they hope Mosquito Lake School can remain open for their younger child. She said the bus ride to and from town each day is too long for younger children and she likes the smaller atmosphere of Mosquito Lake school for the lower grades also.

“It’s such a long bus ride into town for these little guys,” she said. “There are just a lot of reasons to really like this school.”

Jacobson said if the school closes she would consider sending her younger child to Klukwan school to keep the commute shorter for him and to keep him in a smaller school.

“There’s just so many benefits to a small school that people don’t know until they are actually part of it,” she said.

Mosquito Lake School has two large classrooms that Holmes can divide using moveable walls. There’s also a small library, a loft area for indoor play, a multi-purpose room for physical education and activities and an outdoor greenhouse where students grow lettuce and flowers in the spring. Hot lunch is served every day.

In recent years, the district has funded several upgrades at the school including new carpeting, a new boiler, a new septic system and new playground equipment.

But the school hosts more than just students. Holmes and Jacobson said the building has become a sort of community center for the Mosquito Lake community. An exercise and knitting group meets there, as well as other community groups and activities. Organizations use the building, like the Klehini Volunteer Fire Department, which hosts its annual dinner at the school. Jacobson and other parents have for the past three years organized a Halloween family event at the building.

Holmes said there is still hope that more families will choose to send their children to the school before October, or, like in other years, more families will move in to the valley. Jacobson said she’s seen the student count fluctuate every year. Personally, she said she wishes the state would use an average student count over a few years, rather than deciding every year whether there are enough students to continue the school.

“It’s really an unfortunate situation because I don’t think people realize how much of a gem this school is,” she said. “It’s truly been a blessing for our family.”