When tragedy strikes

This is not a blog post I planned to write.

Yesterday, during the annual Alaska Mountain Runners race up Bird Ridge, a 16-year-old boy was killed by a black bear. I don't know his name, and I might never know, though I suspect I will find out through my connections to the mountain running community.

I don't want to seem like one of those people who latches onto tragedy and makes it their own. This is not, personally, my tragedy.

But it could be.

Growing up in Wasilla and the rest of the Mat-Su Valley, I wasn't aware of a sense of community. Coming home after college out of state, then working for the Frontiersman, though, helped me realize that it does exist, and that I am a part of it. I love being from the Valley, owning it as my home and showing it to my friends from out of town. This is a big reason why I want to teach in the Mat-Su Borough. I think students will appreciate, consciously or otherwise, that I am invested in their lives because they live where I live. For better or for worse, my kids (yeah. I've developed that mindset already) are going to see me out in public and know a part of my life just by virtue of living in the same place. Deaths, heartbreaking-ly, are also going to be a part of that life.

In February of 2016, Burchell High School and the greater Wasilla/Meadow Lakes community lost Austin Edenfield in a car-versus-pedestrian accident. A week before that, a young teen shot and killed a mother and 10-year-old son, presumably his own mother and brother, for reasons still unknown. Last summer, Colony Middle School — one of my alma maters — lost a student to suicide. In October of 2014, Wasilla High School suffered a similar loss (which was exacerbated by the comments of our infamous Sen. Don Young, notorious for putting his foot in his mouth, to put it kindly). Ten months before that, a friend of mine from college killed himself, four months before we would have graduated together. In 2010, when I was a senior at Colony High, a classmate of mine (whom I didn't know very well, but sat like two desks away from me) committed suicide, not long after one of his parents had died.

These are just the stories that were reported, or that I remember, in the last 10 years. Some hurt more than others. And the worst part is, I know I will be a witness to more of this pain as a teacher. I don't want to believe that is true but I think it is the reality of the world we live in. And it sucks. But I hope my students will feel like they can come to me if they're considering such a drastic "solution" to any one of their problems, in and outside of class, or if they know anyone in such a position that they can talk to me about that too. Or if they experience loss and just want to say nothing, do nothing for a while, we can work with that. Students in this state are resilient but sometimes everyone needs a little assistance or comfort; I want to be that, or facilitate that.


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