The first day of school is all about learning the ropes – new classroom, new rules, new names and new routines. In first grade teacher Anne Love’s class, the students were not the only ones getting used to the ebb and flow of a day at McNeil Canyon Elementary.
Love moved to Homer with her husband Walter, two English mastiffs and three teenagers– William, 19; Sean, 16; and Elizabeth, 14 – from Oklahoma in early July as they became dissatisfied with the quality of life and education in the middle of the Lower 48. Walter works at Homer High School as a vocational education teacher. William found a job in town; Sean and Elizabeth attend Homer High School. In addition to her teacher position at McNeil Canyon, Love is also the assistant swim and dive coach for Homer High School.
Homer came on the Loves’ radar as they searched for a place to make home for the rest of their lives. The economy in Oklahoma was becoming too much, and the schools were cutting important programs to make ends meet, Love said. Although the Alaskan economy is less than perfect at the moment, it is in far better shape than Oklahoma’s – the state is 50th out of 50 states in pay, Love said. The in-state college tuition is also more affordable in Alaska than in other states, she said.
“I wanted to be somewhere our children would flourish and thrive and be safe,” Love said. “Where we could settle down and I could have grandkids. It was time to do something different for my family. There are more opportunities here. People in Alaska think the economy is bad, but there is a business in every building here. In small towns in the Lower 48, half the stores are vacant.”
Aside from the economy, the Loves loved that Homer has hunting, fishing, farmers markets, and that small town charm. It also has the perk of being on the road system, which is ideal for her children who may want to visit bigger cities like Anchorage or Fairbanks. Love went berry picking recently with Elizabeth, during which they were filled with the sense of how incredible it was to be picking berries in Alaska in that moment.
It is the people of Homer, however, that make Love feel like she is at home in her new town. Since they arrived, Love said the accepting and kind nature of all the people she encounters constantly surprises her.
“Here we can have kindness and be kind back,” Love said. “The principals have been great, so welcoming. It’s been, ‘Welcome to my family.’”
McNeil Canyon Elementary School Principal Pete Swanson said Love was hired out a group of several applicants for the first grade teaching position. With many years of experience as a kindergarten and preschool teacher under her belt and many good references, Love seemed to be the best fit for the school.
“I felt really good about her fulfilling that position for us,” Swanson said. “I would say she brings different ideas to the school, a cross-pollination of information. … She really wants to be a part of this team, she doesn’t just close her door and teach her class. And that’s what makes McNeil special, that community aspect.”
The Loves have been acclimating to their new environment – one lesson they learned arriving in July was that it truly was light all summer in Alaska, as she relayed off-hand to her class on the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 23. Next, she looks forward to learning about studded tires and driving to work in much more snow than she had in Oklahoma. Despite the changes, there are no regrets about packing up their two trucks and a trailer to make the drive up through the Lower 48 and Canada to Alaska.
The Loves’ journey to Homer took 12 days, four tires, two rims and a broken windshield. A rock from a semi-truck flew up and broke the windshield on one of their trucks; although upon getting to Homer the other trucks’ windshield broke.
“We have an Alaskan windshield now,” Love said.
One truck’s windshield cleaning fluid also stopped working at one point during the trip, requiring them to stop and pouring water out of bottles onto the front windshield to clear off the mud kicked up by their other truck and trailer. Near Dawson Creek in British Columbia, the transmission on their Ford F-350 truck started leaking, requiring Walter to fix it on the road.
Needless to say the Loves were relieved to finally see the Alaska sign as they passed out of Canada and into their new home state.
August 23 marked the first day of school in Homer for Love, a part of her first chapter here in Homer, as well as completed the book on her previous life as the sale of their Oklahoma house closed.
“People say they wish they could do something like this and I tell them they can. It’s challenging but if you have a dream, to make it happen you have to make steps and then you can take those steps,” Love said. “I talk about the Lower 48 like an outsider because I don’t live there anymore. I’m Alaskan.”
Anna Frost can be reached at email@example.com.
New staff at KPBSD Homer area schools:
· Michelle Byrd, Homer Area, Speech Language Pathologist
· Jill Zank, Homer Area, Speech Language Pathologist
· Lindsay Martin, Homer Flex School, Science/Math Teacher
· Walter Love, Homer High School, Vocational Education Teacher
· Celena Lemieux, Homer High School, Custodian I
· Gia Baker, Homer High School, Guidance/Career Asst
· Andrea Messenger, Homer Middle School, Special Education Resource Teacher
· Tyler Krekling, Homer Middle School, Physical Education Teacher
· Ingrid Harrald, Homer-Flex School, School Mental Health Counselor
· Kevin Wilmeth, IS/Homer Area, MicroTech II
· Jan Spurkland, Kachemak-Selo School, Science/Math Teacher
· Anne Love, McNeil Canyon Elementary School, Primary Grade Teacher/Interventionist
· Stephanie Knaebel, Paul Banks Elementary, Special Education Intensive Needs Teacher
· Melissa Gersdorf, Paul Banks Elementary, Special Education Resource Teacher
· Jennifer Waltenbaugh, Paul Banks Elementary, Pre-Kindergarten Teacher
· Michelle Mueller, Paul Banks Elementary, Primary Grade Teacher
· Gregory Carroll, Razdolna School, Special Education Resource Teacher
· Christopher Cool, Susan B. English School, Special Education Resource Teacher
· Jared Copeland, Voznesenka and Nikolaevsk Schools, Migrant/Title I Teacher
· Eric Waltenbaugh, West Homer Elementary, Principal
· Bobby Wick, West Homer Elementary, Intermediate Grade Teacher