FAIRBANKS — In 2005, the founders and first students at Star of the North Charter School lowered a time capsule into the ground in front of their newly christened building.
Within the capsule’s chamber, teachers placed letters, written by each of the 100-some students, to their future selves.
The idea was, 10 years later, those same students and teachers would return, pull the capsule from its hole and recall the early days of the school’s beginnings.
Time capsules are fairly common, especially at schools, where students can change dramatically from kids to adults within a decade’s span. But the idea, first seeded by teacher Tom Richards, had an extra element for Star of the North.
The school had just opened the year prior, without a building. The date was Sept. 28, 2005, and this was to be the school’s first year in its own building. After years of work by educators and community members, the school they dreamed of creating had become a reality.
So they, too, wrote letters to themselves 10 years in the future. For Annie Keep-Barnes, one of the school’s founders and its first head teacher, there was one question she especially needed to ask of her future self: Was it all worth it?
The days went by. The first year came to a close. A decade came and went, and then, in 2015, nothing happened. As the year’s last days slipped by, on a dark November evening, two young adults showed up knocking at the school’s front door.
The head teacher opened the door. It was no longer Keep-Barnes but Diana Childs now serving as head teacher. The students asked when the time capsule would be opened, and Childs, in turn, asked them what time capsule they were talking about.
Following their outstretched fingers, Childs realized the small, circular plaque in the school’s front yard was not, in fact, simply a lawn decoration — it was a link to the school’s past.
Childs contacted Keep-Barnes, who in turn reached out to Richards, and other teachers, Maggie Wade and Brian Powell. They put out a notice on the school’s Facebook page, not much, just a small note: The capsule would be opened June 17. Anyone involved with the capsule was welcome.
Childs said she had no idea how many people would show up. The notice only went out about a week before the event, but when the day came more than 30 former students showed up. The students, now grown, stood around the time capsule, and their kids played on the grass as the adults broke the seal closed 10 years before — give or take nine months.
“I was very moved (among) the kids I saw, how many of them had really made a good life for themselves,” Keep-Barnes said.
There were about 100 students at Star of the North in 2005, who wrote letters to themselves and locked them away for a decade. Former students and teachers are now working to distribute those remaining 60-70 letters to their authors.
As for Keep-Barnes, she was not a child when she wrote her letter, but her life has still changed dramatically since 2005. She has gone on to serve as principal at North Pole High School. Soon, she will leave the country to teach abroad in Bangkok, Thailand, at an international school.
As for her note to herself, “I actually opened the letter and cried,” Keep-Barnes said. “Starting a charter school is one of the hardest things you could ever do in education ... I was asking myself, was it worth it, and I can say, yes, it was worth it.”
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.