Fireweed Academy Principal Kiki Abrahamson has been ready to retire for a couple years, but she was not ready to leave Fireweed, she said. Even now, after she announced her retirement, and celebrated her time at the school with current and former students at a retirement party, Abrahamson plans to come back next year to volunteer.
“I held on because I felt like the job wasn’t done yet,” Abrahamson said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I spend a lot of time at the school. You can’t take 19 years without coming back and reading with the kids.”
Abrahamson also plans to volunteer at the World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan, which is based in the athletic traditions of the Mongolian steppe culture.
Before working at Fireweed Academy, Abrahamson had been involved in a different form of academia. Her first two degrees are bachelors in anthropology and paleontology, and she was travelling through Alaska on a break from school when she hitchhiked a ride with a man who would become her husband. Kiki and Abe Abrahamson settled in North Fork in 1978 and raised three daughters. After her daughters entered elementary school, Abrahamson got her teaching certificate. When the state passed funding for charter schools, she began attending the meetings that would eventually shape Fireweed, where she received her first teaching job.
Abrahamson was the first person hired by Fireweed’s founding board and began working as a half-time aide and half-time teacher, she said. When she started on August 20, 1997, the school had no furniture, no books, and no custodian. The first day of school was August 22, 1997.
Over time, though, Fireweed grew and Abrahamson grew with it. She taught language arts and worked to keep the school true to the founding principles of theme immersion and constructivism – creating learning experiences out of which students to construct meaning. Creativity, self-reliance, accountability and problem solving are some of the principles that Fireweed students take with them.
In 2012, Abrahamson took over the position of principal, though as a result of Fireweed’s unique structure, she still was able to teach during the day as well. Some of her favorite memories of Fireweed involve taking the kids on field trips to Denali, Talkeetna or simply down to Beluga Lake where she showed the kids how methane bubbles in the lake’s ice could be lit on fire.
“I feel like a mother hen when it comes to this school. I fiercely advocate for families and advocate to maintain the vision the founders had for Fireweed,” Abrahamson said.
Despite shifting educational requirements from the state and federal government, Abrahamson helped Fireweed find ways to meet those standards while staying true to its alternative education curriculum that makes the school unique.
“With the No Child Left Behind program, we created our own – No Child Left Inside,” Abrahamson said. “Every time we can create an opportunity to get kids in the community, we do. Seeing kids respond, grow, take responsibility for their actions, self-reliance, that’s the most important learner outcome.”
Anna Frost can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Former Fireweed student dedicates poem to Kiki Abrahamson
Former Fireweed student Maggie Bursch, one of Kiki Abrahamson’s first students who recently graduated from college, presented Abrahamson with this poem at her retirement party on Friday, May 20.
Just Remember What You Taught Me (Happy Graduation/Retirement Kiki)
Take this paper, and pour on to it,
All the stories of all your years
Because they are important child,
And you are important to know them.
Take this paper
And shove it deep into pockets,
Run over rocks and into forests,
Dip it into a tide pool,
Rub it with ferns and alder-wood,
Read of it to the starfish,
Read of it to the tide,
Take this paper
And forget it somewhere,
Crumple it up and make a fire,
Chop it up and blend it with water
Then dip your can’t-stop eager hands into it,
Press it between a bug screen and a friend,
And set it out to dry.
As you wait for it to dry
Bounce a rubber ball,
Put those sticky finders to a keyboard
And write a poem, listen to a story,
Sing all the wrong words to a song and laugh,
Whisper under jackets about what it means to grow up,
Grow up a little, pick up a book,
Maybe even scrape your knee if you’re not careful,
Cry a little,
Dance to tie-dye music,
Draw something gigantic
on the white board.
By this time your paper should be dry,
Peel it up carefully
Take this paper
And hold it up to the light,
Know you made it,
Know you can keep it,
and do with it
exactly what you like.