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mentor stories

Brenda Luthi
Last season I headed out to a district where one of my high school science teachers requested 50 feeder goldfish. Now, to reach her village, I take the jet to the hub, then board a small plane, then take a long snow machine ride across two rivers and tundra to reach the school. I purchased the 50 feeder fish at a local pet store, sprinkled in some powdered oxygen (didn't even know they made that!), kept the bag opened all night so the fish were ready when I left the house at 3:00 am for the airport. I got to the airport and pondered what security is going to do with me and my bag of live fish. When I showed my bag of fish to the first TSA agent, I got automatic cuts to the front of the line and a special, super-fast walk through the security. The fish and I made it safe and sound to the village—thanks to those hand warmers that you shake, and me wrapping my snow pants around those fish while my legs froze. The moral of this story: Bring a bag of live fish with you through security and advance to the front of the line!

Hal Neace
I was having a sandwich in a local restaurant in a hub when a young student looked over to me and said, "Hello Mr. Personification!" She remembered me from 2 years ago when I modeled a lesson on personification in her elementary class. We both got a big chuckle out of it and so did her mother. In one school that made AYP for the third year in a row, the principal came up to me and commented: "We are proud of our achievement. The mentor program that has been supporting us all these years can also take some credit for this hard-earned accomplishment."

Karen Kay Mobley
On October 8th, 2011, I awoke to a beautiful morning with a full view of the river from my site. After my shower, the beautiful view from earlier was being consumed by a very thick fog, and I realized my flight was going to be delayed.

Four hours later, I got the call to go to the airstrip. I got there ready to fly, watching as the first plane comes and leaves. It's a charter and I’m on a seat fare. So I am taken back to my teacher’s house. She was inside baking cookies, but didn’t answer the door because she didn’t hear me knocking. Luckily it was not freezing outside! So the school custodian returned to take me back to the airstrip, and reassures me this is the plane. The second plane arrived and was quite big, but not going to my destination, so they left me behind. I decided to sit at the airstrip because the truck was full of volleyball players who just arrived and needed to be transported to the school.

After about 20 minutes, the third plane arrived. I politely asked if it’s going to my destination, and the pilot responds, "Yes." He put my luggage on the plane and we were off. We arrived at the correct airport in about 15 minutes . It was a great take off, flight, and landing. So I had to ask this very young gentleman how old he was, and he replied "20"—definitely my youngest pilot ever, but a very talented one.

Marc Robinson
There is no graceful way to get on a snow machine. Believe me, I have tried. There is an art to this skill that I have yet to master, possibly due, in part, to short, fifty-plus-year-old legs. I was determined to master this skill, in anticipation of my next round of trips, so I did what any resourceful mentor would do—I decided to practice using a folding chair. My chiropractor tried but was unable to stop laughing aloud when I told him I had pulled my hamstring practicing how to get on a snow machine in my living room.

My next few trips were no problem because I knew there was “real” transportation, in the form of trucks, vans, or even school buses. However, I had “the date” circled on my calendar. I knew that on this day and in this village, I would have to ride.

This was the first time in years that I was more nervous about the ground ride than the plane ride. We touched down (actually we skidded sideways down the runway), and when I started to deplane, I fell out onto the ground. In true village fashion, none of the folks said anything (did I mention that the whole village usually greets the plane?), except an elder who remarked, “Must be from the city.” It was then that I saw it: a shiny new pickup truck! One of the locals purchased a 4-wheel drive vehicle and was giving everyone rides, everywhere, so I hitched a ride.

The best part of the trip was the mentoring. I observed the site's early career teachers, shared some teaching strategies, and had some great conversations. However, as I curled up in my sleeping bag, on my sleeping pad, on the floor, I knew that tomorrow would come and I would get a chance to try out my new skill.

The snow machine with sled attached pulled up to the school and I could delay no longer. I made a speedy exit (or so I thought) and approached the behemoth. Just as I was about to swing my leg up and over, the driver said, “Oh look, they came to say goodbye!” I turned to find the entire school population, teachers, the custodian, someone’s grandmother and the several dogs, waving goodbye. The pressure was on. I met the driver’s eyes with mine and with a knowing nod he stood up and moved forward. My adrenalin was pumping and I was ready. In one swift motion that would have impressed Baryshnikov, I confidently swung my leg up—and over!

Unfortunately, the real story begins here. The ambient temperature was ten degrees. With the wind chill factor, I was looking (literally) at 15 below. I have a hood on my parka for these occasions but I had a choice to make: partially cover my face and brave the wind, or completely cover up and trust. As though he had read my mind, the driver said, “Better cover up!” I did.

Apparently, the driver moonlighted as a trailbreaker for the Iditarod, because if there was a road, I am still looking for it. This five-mile trip made Space Mountain feel like Mr. Toad’s Not-So-Wild Ride. Between holding my hood and holding on for dear life, I had run out of hands and was terrified—but not as terrified as the prospect of getting off the snow machine.

Several harrowing minutes later, we arrived at the landing strip (Did I mention that the whole village greets the plane). The driver knew what was coming and I could swear he was already laughing. He got off the snow machine before me, to get a better vantage point. I tried twice, unsuccessfully, to swing my leg over but the hammy wasn’t having it. After the third attempt, I lost my pride (and my balance) and fell off the machine onto the frozen tundra. The driver looked down, extended his hand and said, “Best ride ever, huh?” In my best Mentor language, I replied, “So far!”

Judy Youngquist
Although I have lived in Alaska for over 30 years, it wasn’t until I became a mentor that I started doing “Alaskan” things. Were it not for mentoring, I would never have ventured to the exotic St. Lawrence Island or flown up and down the Kuskokwim River or seen a Beluga whale in Point Hope. Nor would I have known that there is a Pepi’s Mexican Restaurant in Barrow or an Airport Pizza in Nome. But I digress. One of the more uniquely Alaskan experience is, of course, the Iditarod. I had seen (in person) the start in Anchorage and the restart in Willow but the prospect of being “on the trail” during the Iditarod excited me—and not much excites me.

I arranged my March visits so that I would be in a “checkpoint” village as mushers were coming and going, not realizing that it would not just be mushers coming and going. I usually sleep in the school and saw no reason to change my plans, an error on my part.

I cannot describe the incredible feelings I felt as I, along with other residents and visitors, followed a team from the coastline to the outskirts of the village and finally, to the checkpoint. It was 10:00 pm, I got great pictures and decided it was time to turn in—or so I thought. The musher followed me into the school (coincidentally), along with race officials, locals, and tourists. It was just beginning to sink in that I had made a tactical error. I would have gotten more sleep if I had stayed outside with the dogs. Between the mushers planning their strategies, the tourists buzzing about the school, the race officials warming their hands and feet and the kids who loved the fact that the school was open, there was activity well into the night, and the next morning. I got no sleep.

As I reflect upon that night and morning, I do smile because I experienced the Iditarod from the trail, something that not everyone can say. However, this spring during Iditarod week, I plan to head south!

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