A handful of children in a tiny Alaska village saw street lights, sports cars, and escalators for the first time last year on a trip to California, and now the same group has its sights set on the nation’s capital.
This feel-good story begins in remote Stony River, population 46, which is about 225 miles west of Anchorage. The community’s Gusty Michael School enrolls seven students and faces the threat of closure because of its dwindling population.
It wouldn’t be the first Alaskan school to shutter because of its small size. During the past 13 years, 27 rural Alaska schools have closed their doors, mostly because lawmakers have eliminated state funds for schools with less than 10 students.
With that possibility looming, Gusty Michael School teacher Debi Rubera started raising money in 2008 to take her students to Washington, D.C. When they hadn’t raised enough after three years, the school decided instead to try to go to California.
Students wrote letters to corporations and media outlets asking for donations, and word of their story spread. It didn’t take long to collect the $40,000 they needed.
Their California trip last year included museum visits, Disneyland, the beach, and horseback rides. A filmmaker in Santa Barbara, Michael Warner, chronicled students’ journey and produced a number of short documentaries about their experience.
The uncertainty around the school’s future continued into this school year, but students are more determined than ever to make their dream of visiting Washington a reality.
“Hopefully, this will be a voice for the other schools that don’t have the opportunity to travel,” said 14-year-old Mary Brown in one article.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed for Mary Brown and her classmates.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rural Education blog.