“North to Alaska” now has more meaning to three St. Regis teachers than just a 1960s John Wayne movie as they pack their bags and head to Unalaska, Alaska. The adventurous trio secured jobs at the schools at The Port of Dutch Harbor. Current high school teacher and BPA supervisor, Chad Eichenlaub; Kindergarten teacher Mallery Mceldery; and fourth grade teacher Laura Jarvis will all be on the ferry from Homer, Alaska to the small island around July 19. Mceldery and Jarvis will finish up teaching summer camps and then move.
Jarvis, who has taught at St. Regis for seven years said, “I’ve taught in Alaska my first year of teaching and really enjoyed it and I’ve always looked up there and planned on returning. The right doors opened and I found an amazing opportunity. So I’m pretty excited.”
She’ll be teaching fifth grade, Mceldery will be teaching first grade and Eichenlaub will teach high school business. Both he and Mceldery have been teaching at St. Regis for five years and are looking forward to the change. Eichenlaub said he student taught at the school where his uncle is the principal.
Mceldery’s husband had gotten a job as the technology director for the school district and then the first grade position opened up. She jumped at the chance and got hired. The ferry to the island leaves every two weeks and so they will be catching the last one before school starts. It’s a three day ferry ride which covers nearly 600 miles from Homer.
Eichenlaub said the island is mostly mountains and is part of the Aleutian Islands. Its 212 square miles with a population of approximately 4,700 people according to a 2015 report. He said the area is very diverse with people from Asia, Mongolia, Somalia, Japan, and the Philippines.
It’s located 50 miles from the North Pacific Great Circle Route and 800 miles southwest of Anchorage in the heart of the North Pacific and Bering Sea fisheries. According to their website it is 40 miles of roads linking the port, harbors and private docks with local businesses ad community. It is also said to be one of the busiest and most prosperous stretches of coastline in Alaska.
With 787 million pounds of seafood valued at $218 million annually. Ranking the Port of Dutch Harbor second in the nation in terms of value of the catch. Approximately 600 vessels fish the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea for various ground fish, cod, halibut, salmon, herring and several species of crab.
The population increases during peak fishing and seafood processing seasons bringing the population up between 4,000 to 6,000 people. It’s the 12th largest incorporated city in Alaska. The two schools the teachers will be at are Unalaska City School for grades 7 through 12 and Eagles View Elementary.
Both schools are ranked among top schools in the state with a wide variety of academics and activities for the students including basketball, wrestling, volleyball, swimming, music, fine arts and language.
There’s a 13 to 1 teacher/pupil ratio and according to a recent report the elementary school had 229 students with 41 in the first grade and 30 in the fifth grade and 176 middle and high school students. The average teacher salary is $53,710 and can range up to $80,000.
Because it’s part of the island chain the weather is pleasant with average summer temperatures of 41 to 52 degrees and winters averaging 31 to 40 degrees. There’s also about 60 inches of annual rain and 90 inches of snow which doesn’t stay on the ground long due to the warmer climate.
Though the three teachers didn’t plan their journey north together, circumstances has them on a conjoined course for a new life adventure.