Last week the annual LPSD "AA meet" was held in Newhalen, bringing students in from Perryville to Port Alsworth and many locations in between. The gathering is an important opportunity to learn, make friends, and have fun in a school district that is the size of a small state.
The annual Athletic and Academic meet brought together students who share a bond in their isolation. Nine schools comprise the Lake and Pen School District and distances aren’t measured by bus trips, but by airplane rides. The northernmost point of the District, Lake Clark, sits almost 400 miles away from its southern counterpart Perryville.
Just getting to the meet is no small task given the extremity of the geography. The only way in or out is by airplane and this reality makes even simple meetings between schools a costly affair.
Anticipation animated the annual meet as students, teachers, college students, and local politicians all jostled for space in the crowded gymnasium. Hallways were piled with school bags, backpacks and luggage while students caught up with old friends. The sounds of friendly basketball games could be heard almost constantly in the background.
Activities, challenges and special classes filled the daily schedule.
“Contested” was the theme of this year’s meet, and students were encouraged to participate in writing, photo and essay contests around the state.
UAA graduate students flew in to help give classes on subjects ranging from art to science. Many of the classes were interactive with students participating in memory games or building rockets and snow volcanoes.
“One of the primary goals of the meet is push the students to get out of their comfort zone,” Newhalen principal Ed Lester said.
“They are getting to do things they wouldn’t normally be able to do,” Lester said. “Our region is changing and growing so it allows them make connections from the region and that is a great team-building opportunity.”
Perhaps the most anticipated event of the week was the prom. Its theme this year was the 1980s.
As the gymnasium lights dimmed on the afternoon before the prom, students filled the room with string lights and planned out the dance floor.
Newhalen school chef Dawn Wassillie proudly showed off the prime rib she was specially cooking for the event.
“I love cooking for these kids,” she said. “It makes me so happy.”
High school senior Sasha Alsworth said the distance people had to travel made prom a unique time of the year.
“I hope people get out of their comfort zone a little bit and have fun,” he said. “The reason prom is so special here is because there are kids from so many different villages and they come from hundreds of miles apart and we finally get to come together.”
The Lake and Pen Borough Assembly was also in town. The AA meet provides an opportunity to also come together and hold a meeting and stay updated about what is happening in their communities.
“It’s really wonderful,” Lake and Pen Borough mayor Glen Alsworth said. “I have heard from so many people and young people that this is a great event.”
For some this was the first AA meet and for others the last. Tanalian high school senior Alison Smith will be moving on to Union University in Jackson Tennessee after her senior year.
“I just like the socializing part of the AA meet,” she said. “We do a lot of the same things they do in the lower 48 but we also do a lot of different things. We go fishing in the summer for salmon that we are going to eat in the winter and drive 4-wheelers everywhere. It is just a great place to be if you like to be out in nature.”
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