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Community Perspective

School is more than a building

  • Updated

The following is an open letter to all Alaska students by Amy Gallaway, the 2020 Alaska Teacher of the Year and a teacher at West Valley High School, and Heather Damario, global studies teacher and Model United Nations director at West Valley High School.


Dear students,

We miss you! On March 20, our hearts broke when schools closed. We have spent the last week thinking of you; we even cried worrying about you. We are scared we won’t be there enough and that the system will fail you. So, we decided to write a letter telling you that while the buildings may be closed, school is on!

We miss your daily presence in our lives. This closure reminded us of what we have always known to be true: School is YOU. It is not the brick and mortar of a building; school is a relationship, a commitment to inspire each other, to discover who we are meant to be and how we will give back to our communities. This school closure is going to be hard. It may complicate our relationship, but it won’t end it. For us, the hardest part is going to be missing your smiles. We won’t get to see your face light up when you discover something new or see it grimace at something confusing. It is especially hard knowing you may not have an escape from the trials and tribulations of life. So, remember, we are still here.

We wonder, what will be hardest for you?

We miss learning with you. While phenomenal plans are in place, there is still overwhelming uncertainty. But this we know for sure:

• We’ve got your back. No matter how long school is closed, you are our first priority, you are what makes school, school. We are tirelessly working with all of your teachers to make this worthwhile. It’s like we’ve learned a lifetime worth of technology in five days. It has been both comical and humbling.

• You need to stay strong and be good citizens. We believe in your power to transform the world, and we need you to believe it, too. You will be defined by your courage and resilience. Don’t shrink. The world does not need you to make yourself small. Take care of yourself and help your community. As philosopher Angela Davis reminds us, “You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world and you have to do it all the time.”

• We share your loss. So many events have been canceled: state tournaments, school trips, competitions, prom, air band. Even worse, you will be missing your friends and all the moments that make school a home. Seniors, your loss is truly profound. We are all planning and scheming ways to make this up to you, but nothing will replace this loss. We are sorry.

Seniors, while the biggest heartbreak is yours, the biggest opportunity is yours as well.

We need your help. Create a way for all your peers to reconnect. This is separation by circumstance, not by choice. Every day, remind people they matter. While you are physically isolated, please don’t be emotionally isolated. Where we will fall short as teachers, we need to find comfort in knowing you are stepping up. Be leaders and role models by creating new ways to connect. Make at-home scavenger hunts. Host your school talent show online. And when it comes to social distancing, lead by example and take this seriously. Follow guidelines, create a PSA, hold virtual meetings. Your most important assignments right now are to revive our school and help save the republic. This is a call to action you cannot ignore.

Students, let’s be awkward and vulnerable. You are more powerful than you ever imagined, and now is your time to choose courage, to choose each other. It’s time for us to come together and make history. School is on!

We love you. Stay strong. Be good citizens.


Ms. Gallaway, civics teacher and Alaska 2020 Teacher of the Year

Mrs. Damario, global studies teacher and Model United Nations director


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