A glance around Ketchikan High School these days proves just how much the home of the Kayhi Kings has changed over the years, but also how much remains the same at the school as teachers and students come and go.
Rick Collins isn't on the Kayhi Kings wrestling team anymore — nowadays he's the maritime science teacher — but he still finds himself running the same flight of stairs that he once did to stay in shape for school athletics, but now to get to his classroom.
Sarah Campbell often shares lunch with the same person she first met as a seventh-grader. But now instead of eating in a cafeteria, the two women both eat on a break from teaching at Kayhi.
As a student, Caitlin Jacobson spent her fair share of time tucked away in a cozy corner of the Kayhi library. Now, she works to provide the same space and resources to students who need a break — even though most aren't looking for resources by hand anymore, as she recalls doing as a student.
Kayhi is staffed by a large number of teachers and educators who graduated from the school themselves, and, one way or another, found their way back. The Daily News spoke with seven educators over the span of two weeks who largely agreed that community pride, a sense of nostalgia, and a fondness for the school environment brought them back.
Some came back to Kayhi because it was time to come home to the First City — language teacher Dan Patton spent 10 years teaching in Switzerland before making the move back, and choir instructor Trina Purcell lived in Italy for five — and some were here all along — auto mechanics instructor Clint McClennan started out as a substitute teacher in his son's class and science teacher Frankie Urquhart is a seasoned Schoenbar Middle School teacher.
But all shared their memories as students, and their thoughts on what it's like to teach at their former school.
Sarah Campbell, a 1992 graduate, remembers being a member of the volleyball and cross country teams, student government and pep club — "all the school activities that make Kayhi what it is" — she told the Daily News during a recent interview.
Her fondest high school memories were traveling around Southeast for music festivals and going to basketball games.
"All those experiences just really made such an impact on me," Campbell said. "And I wanted to continue to help ensure that for other kids here in the community of Ketchikan."
And so when Campbell left for college, she knew that her goal was ultimately to become a Kayhi teacher.
"Being a student and having a very positive experience growing up here, and specifically as a high school student at Kayhi, um, that's what really shaped my desire to become a teacher," Campbell said.
And in 2003, Campbell took up her post as an English teacher at Kayhi.
The volume of Kayhi alumni now teaching at the school hasn't escaped her notice.
"I've had just such a rich and fulfilling life growing up in this community of people supporting me," Campbell said. "And so to be able to teach at the high school I graduated from and teach alongside some of the people I went to high school with, it's just such a unique and wonderful experience."
Campbell noted that she met math teacher Jennifer Karlik in seventh grade at Schoenbar, and "she and I have been eating lunch together pretty much every day since we were 12."
For Campbell, it's those kinds of bonds that color both her school and teaching experiences at Kayhi.
As a teacher, she's watched as students work to hold onto school traditions in ever-changing times brought on by the pandemic.
"Some of our sophomores and freshmen have never had a school assembly during their time," Campbell reflected. "They haven't been to an actual pep rally. So I see the upperclassmen working really hard to kind of share that, that school spirit and that connection with Kayhi, with the underclassman.
A sense of compassion shared by the current generation of students at Kayhi is something that Campbell hopes sticks around.
And, as Campbell put it, "while times might be different than they were in the past, what is very much the same is that we're all Kayhi Kings."
The Kayhi library has changed quite a bit since Caitlin Jacobson graduated with the class of 1983. There's less emphasis on research tools and more focus placed on creating a comfortable atmosphere with engaging reads — something that Jacobson takes pride in making available to all students.
Jacobson moved to the East Coast for college and grad school, but traveled back to the First City in 2004, taking up a post in the Schoenbar Middle School library for eight years before making the jump back to high school.
While Jacobson played second trumpet, guided by then-music teacher Roy McPherson, in Kayhi's band and jazz band, she "didn't have a ton of friends."
The experience has influenced how she manages Kayhi's library.
"And so I think in the library here, we really strive to reach out to everyone that we can to make it a safe place," Jacobson said. "It's been harder during COVID to have those relationships with students, but it's really important."
Jacobson said that along with fellow Kayhi graduate and library assistant Becky Moody, "the two of us really want to create a welcoming, warm, cozy place that's safe for popular kids and kids that don't consider themselves popular. So just a place that's comfortable and where kids don't have to be worried about who's watching them or whether they're the important kid or not."
In the years since she graduated, Jacobson remarked on how much technology has been brought into library sciences.
"They're (students) carrying their laptops, they're still wanting to read the popular books and use the library, but it's not as research heavy as it was in my time here at Kayhi," Jacobson explained. "So you know, the kids are using Google for things to get the information that they want. We do have databases ... so that the kids have accurate information, authoritative information, to use when they're doing their research projects. But yeah, it's definitely not the same environment that, you know, looking up magazines by hand like I did when I was at Kayhi."
For maritime teacher and coach Rick Collins, his time at Kayhi has been a chance to see the school evolve through the eyes of a student and then as a teacher, once his own teachers inspired him to start down the path of becoming an educator in college.
Now in his 28th year of teaching at the school, Collins finds himself having former teachers as coworkers and watching past students become educators.
Some of the children of his peers —members of the Kayhi class of 1987 — are now his students.
"It's just been amazing because you've known these people for so long, and then to get to hang out with their kids, you're lucky to do it," Collins said. "I mean, it's just really lucky to get to see the students everyday and watch them grow."
He continued, "they're developing so fast. ... It's just neat to watch them mature emotionally and physically and see that process. And I think as far as teaching, you're working with kids, they're happy and healthy for the most part, and it's a pretty exciting place to be and helps you stay connected to the younger generations and be aware of what they're going through."
Some of his students from the past 28 years have even come back to work alongside him, which he described as "pretty exciting."
But Collins also continues to work with people who taught him, continuing the cycle of Kayhi alumni staying in the community.
"It was really strange to start, you know, addressing some of them by their first names, you know, because they were my teachers when I was a kid and it's just neat to be a part of that history now, that continuation," Collins said.
Collins' own time at Kayhi was marked by participation in a swath of school sports and making memories in and outside of school. Collins hopes that students can continue to make their own high school memories despite COVID-19.
But despite the pandemic and the pause it has prompted on activities such as sports or gatherings, "it's great watching students grow up here."
Kayhi itself also has changed, but Collins still recognizes his past self in the building.
"I've been there a long time now, so things have, you know, slowly evolved over time," Collins reflected. "But you know, the funny thing is when I was in high school, I used to run stairs, to stay in shape for my sports and things like that. And I still run those same stairs. You know, the remodel changed the routing a tiny bit ... but overall the vocational wing is the same . ... I've just seen that, you know, going to school in the old high school and then walking the remodel and being (a teacher) in the new high school, it's just been quite the transition."
The number of his coworkers who also graduated Kayhi is a source of school spirit.
"I think a lot of us take pride in that," Collins said. "I mean, it was a great place to go to school."
Daniel Patton spent 10 years living and working in the French-speaking region of Switzerland before he felt it was time to return home to the First City.
A science teacher by trade, Patton was inspired to become a language teacher after his time in Switzerland, making the move to teaching French at Kayhi at the top of this school year. He previously had experience teaching science, Japanese and Spanish at Schoenbar Middle School.
"Foreign language is just, it's kind of a fascinating area that I think is kind of under-appreciated in the United States," Patton said. "It's just kind of fun to be able to try to bring it to life for the kids."
Patton graduated from Kayhi with the class of 1997, and was a member of the school swim and debate teams, as well as band.
Since coming back to Kayhi, Patton has noticed how many families he still has bonds with in the community.
"I know the families these kids come from," Patton said. "I know their parents, I know their grandparents, I know the brothers and sisters. So I think that helps build some credibility with the kids. ... I don't know, it just feels like it hasn't changed that much since I was there."
Some of Patton's old teachers are still working at Kayhi, including art teacher Louise Kern and Rick Collins.
Reflecting on his Kayhi memories, Patton said that some of his most memorable moments happened while hanging around before or after school, mingling with peers and teachers alike. He hopes that COVID-19 protocols don't take that away from future graduates.
"When I went to school, the doors opened early, you know, and kids could come in and be there early,' Patton recalled. "The kids were there, like doing your homework and just kinda hanging out before school. And then especially after school, like kids would just hang out there for hours after school. All different kinds of stuff was going on. It was (a) very lively kind of place. Now, like about 3:15 p.m. the door shut, you can't be there. And I just really, really, really hope that comes back."
Before graduating in 1993, Frankie Urquhart made plenty of Kayhi memories — volleyball, track and field, pep assemblies and meeting her future husband in honors English class were just some of her high school highlights.
Urquhart spent the past 14 years teaching science at Schoenbar Middle School. She made the switch to high school at the beginning of this school year.
And a new position at Kayhi means new co-educators. Like Collins, Urquhart now works alongside some of her former middle school science students, and also gets another chance to connect with her former students as they go through her class at Kayhi after finishing middle school.
"Seeing all of the teachers working here that I taught at Schoenbar, that's been kind of fun, just the cycle continues and that's been really fun," she said. "Having people that I am colleagues with now that maybe I had in seventh grade science or eighth grade science. So whether they're paras or teachers or they're working in the human resources department. ... So that's been really fun, is just seeing the growth and seeing some local talent come up through our school system and eventually work here, which is fantastic."
Urquhart thinks fondly of Kayhi basketball games — where she played the flute as a member of the pep band — as a source of school camaraderie and hopes that COVID-19 won't stop the current generation of Kayhi Kings from forming their own bonds.
"All the games were probably a lot like what ... kids have experienced in the past and what some of the kids have missed out on with COVID," Urquhart said. "So that's kind of the unfortunate part, is that some of the kids have missed out on all of that camaraderie and fun over the last couple years."
A sense of home is what brought Trina Purcell back to Ketchikan from Italy 16 years ago.
"I had finished college and I was living in Italy, and my degree is in music education, and it was about time for me to move back to the states — you know, just the right time in my life — and the (Kayhi) choir director, who was my choir director in high school, was retiring so (Kayhi) had contacted me," she said.
Purcell said she recalled thinking, "It was time to start teaching again."
"It would be nice to start somewhere familiar and I knew the community and I knew the school and that they were supportive of the arts, and it took out some of the you know, I know where the bathrooms are, the new teacher stuff," Purcell said.
During her time as a student at Kayhi, Purcell, a 1994 graduate, was on the basketball team.
But, "most of my life was music," she recalled.
A member of the jazz and choir groups, as well as community music groups, Purcell now watches young music students make meaningful memories that she remembers well.
More than traveling for music festivals or performing, Purcell said she watches memories made in Kayhi's own music department.
"Just being in the music class, there are kids who come in and they're not sure ... and then they find their niche and that ends up being who they are," Purcell said. "... They talk later about all their memories of belonging and purpose and performing, just different experiences that they have. It becomes their little group, and everybody needs a group when they're in high school."
Clint McClennan took a job as a substitute teacher for his son's automotive class seven years ago, unaware that he'd end up taking a full-time position as a teacher at his old high school.
Years later, McClennan sits in his old shop teacher's desk chair as he helps guide his career technical education students.
"So I stepped in just with the intention of substituting for a few weeks, and a few weeks turned into a few months and then they asked me to stay," McClennan reflected. "And I sold my company and started teaching."
McClennan, a member of the Kayhi Class of 1988, remembers participating in basketball, wrestling and debate as a student. He particularly enjoyed his career technical education courses (then known as vocational education classes).
Now, he finds himself influenced by having had the experience of learning at Kayhi, where, he said, he was less interested in academics and more engaged in vocational classes as a student. It's that perspective that keeps him on a lookout for students like him to inspire to go further in their education.
"It makes me encourage my students to prepare for anything," he said. "Not to assume they're just gonna be working on cars their whole life or welding their whole life, but to prepare academically for the potential of becoming an educator someday, the possibility of becoming an educator. And it also really helps me look for those students that were just like me, that weren't as interested in the academic as they were the other sides of vocation, and to encourage them to get a secondary education so that they're prepared for the next stage."
And, of course, from his nostalgic position of his old teacher's chair, McClennan remembered how traditions have changed — like how, as a student, senior skip day wasn't a planned event, and some students got injured from being reckless during their day off school. Now it's a tradition that's arranged ahead of time, but McClennan said the meaning is the same to seniors regardless.
"But they still have a lot of meaning to the students," he said. "And especially through COVID, I've really seen some radical changes that have been hard because they've missed so much the last couple years, so that's been hard to see some of those things go away. But also, hearing the students that don't have that experience talking about it, like 'Hey, we heard you guys used to be able to do this and we're looking forward to the day when we can do that again."