“When people say I can’t do things, I do the opposite," Wilson said. "I’d been told, you know, I probably wouldn’t be a good educator. And so I took that drive to start out into the field.” This spring, she retired.
It’s nearly summer vacation, and a class of sixth graders are listening to a story from their social studies teacher.
“Here I am, covered with dirt on my face, because one part of my life here at Dillingham Middle School/High School was to take eighth graders on the eighth-grade trip,” said Jacquelyn Wilson to the class.
“My real name is Quenluk. And I’m a longtime teacher," she said.
Thirty-nine years, to be precise. Wilson began substitute teaching for the Dillingham City School District in 1980.
“When people say I can’t do things, I do the opposite," she explained. "I’d been told, you know, I probably wouldn’t be a good educator. And so I took that drive to start out into the field.”
Wilson is from Savoonga, a village on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, and she grew up speaking Yup’ik. When she was around seven, her family moved to Nome.
“And that is when I was exposed to the western ways," she said. "And it was quite challenging, not knowing how to speak English. So I had to learn English really quick, and get to know some of the culture of the western world. And that took a while, but I managed to survive, and made it."
She said that in the face of discrimination, she was able to realize her professional purpose.
“I went through a period of segregation in Alaska’s history, where the Native Alaskans were not really appreciated and were misunderstood. And so I took that upon myself, that Native Alaskans and Native Americans can do just as much – any job that they seek to become,” she said.
Wilson began her higher education at Alaska Pacific University. When she met her future spouse, a commercial fisherman, she followed him to his home in Dillingham. Ultimately, Wilson received her degree through a rural teaching program from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and completed her student teaching in Homer.
Wilson said when she arrived in Dillingham, she didn’t know how to pick fish. She also didn’t know anyone, so she decided to visit Elders in the community.
“I learned a lot from their stories of the changes they have seen," she said. "How they were told to speak English around their husbands, but when their husbands were not there, they would speak their language – the Yup’ik language – to their children."
Wilson’s experience learning about the region was so profound she started teaching a class called “Elders of Nushagak” so she could share the insight of the people she had met.
Now that her final school year is over, Wilson says she is looking forward to exploring life – and supporting kids – in the world outside the classroom.
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