Community and School are One: Galena

Galena so totally captured my heart when I was there during the race that I had to find out more, and everything that I have learned since has not only confirmed my original impression of this community, but also extended it.  I think it is the priorities of community and education that actually endears one to this village.  The importance that residents give to using what they have while taking a risk to extend themselves to educate students even outside of their village sets them apart from many.

The original settlement of Galena was a miner’s trading post while the majority of the native population lived in Louden upriver toward Ruby where they mostly sold logs to the barges on the river.  They eventually moved down to what is now known as “old town” by the airstrip.

At the beginning of World War II, the United States Air Force built a base at Galena.  As the story goes, the Air Force dropped a few individuals in and told them to get to work and they would be back in two weeks.  Well, weeks turned into months, and the community of Galena, in its characteristic style, took them in.  The Air Force did eventually return and the construction of the base was completed, lending infrastructure and even more diversity to the community.

In the early 90’s, with the reduction in military spending, the base at Galena was closed and control of the land was left to a management company.  The Air Force had left so much of what they used, like furniture, tools, etc., that the people of Galena,  no strangers to using what you have, were able to put it to good use.  Galena also has a fully functioning clinic, easing the worries of the residents.

Outsiders have been a part of Galena for so long that they are welcomed, so long as they do not judge the traditional ways that are still very much mainstream for this community. Sidney Huntington, the village elder at 97, is revered above all and is still in attendance at most village functions.  During my stay at the checkpoint in Galena, Sidney walked down to the community center every couple hours or so to see how things were coming with the race, and then would sit and visit for a while before heading off again.  When the checkpoint opened and they found themselves without food for the mushers that were soon to arrive, a call was put out over the Public Radio Station there in Galena for help.  Community members immediately began a steady stream of tasty hot meals and special treats, often staying to visit and tell stories during the waiting times.

The school system in Galena is the heart of the community.  Sidney Huntington School is a K-8 of roughly    students.  Debbie Koontz, an upper grade science teacher, gave me a grand tour while I was there, and I was impressed by the extensiveness of their program.  Both the arts and vocational education are emphasized along with the traditional academic program.

About fifteen years ago, along with the advent of the charter school system, an application was written to establish GILA, a secondary school that emphasized economically viable skills.  At the time that the application was due, the school board had none of the necessary equipment or facilities to establish this school, but with a “build it and they will come” type of attitude they made the application, were approved and started the next school year with everything from facilities to students that they needed.  That was fifteen years ago.  Today GILA has fully functioning programs in the Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Aviation where students can actually earn their private pilots license, Automotive Technology, Carpentry and Welding, to name a few.

There is also a secondary boarding school in Galena and a traditional academic program through the Sidney Huntington School.  All three of these systems do share classes at times where it seems beneficial.

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Galena is a community about sustainability, and children mean income.  The Galena District welcomes students from neighboring areas and also encourages outsiders to actually buy land and build homes in Galena. In Galena, school and community are one and the same thing, and I can’t imagine a more positive and supportive community in which to live.  Thank you Galena for your warm welcome and the great memories I have to take with me.

Remembering the special spots on the trail,

Blynne