New Houghtaling Elementary School first-grade teacher Felicia Hill, hailing from Alabama and Texas, is living her longtime dream of living in Alaska.
“About 14 years ago, I was interested in coming to Alaska,” she said, but the time wasn’t quite right then for her family.
Hill’s husband and three children moved to Ketchikan from Houston in early August.
When asked what had sparked her Alaska dream, she said she had watched a TV movie about a small, warm Alaska community and it planted a seed.
“It had like, one doctor and one police officer and it was just the nicest town,” she said of the movie’s town. “It was nice, it was quiet, it was more family oriented.”
She said Ketchikan has been just what she’d been looking for in that way.
“People are really friendly and very helpful,” she said. “It’s a great place.”
There have been some things to get used to however, she said.
“I knew it would be a lot different climate, but I didn’t know it rained. I was just thinking of snow, because when people think of Alaska, you just think about snow,” she explained.
“All the rain — I’m really shocked,” she said, laughing. “I was like, oh — I’m preparing for six feet of snow. It was like, it does snow here, but basically it’s just rain. I’m like, ‘Rain? What do you mean, rain?”
She concluded, however, “It’s not really bad at all,” adding that she’d expected the rain to be hard downpours, not the gentle rains typical to Ketchikan.
“I’m getting used to it,” she said. “I’m not as cold as I was when I first moved here.”
One of her biggest surprises after moving to Ketchikan was “the black bear crossing the street,” where she lives in town. She said she was used to seeing deer often, when she was living in Alabama, but spotting a meandering town bear was new.
When asked if she had explored the area’s trails yet, she still was thinking of the bears.
“I was trying to wait until the bears hibernate,” she said. “I don’t want to run into one on the trail.”
Learning the tricks to keep one’s trash safe from bears was another new skill for her family, Hill said.
Other surprises, she said, were the high prices of gas and groceries, compared to those in the South.
Hill has been a teacher for 13 years, and said that although she has taught many grade levels, she prefers the younger ages.
When comparing Houghtaling to the schools she’d worked at in the South, she mentioned a few things that are definite improvements.
She first mentioned the lack of alarms on the doors at Houghtaling as new for her, for instance.
Another improvement Hill talked about was the general climate for teachers.
She said there is less focus on teaching to the tests so far in her new job, and she feels there is more attitude in administration that’s “more of a ‘I trust that you are a teacher, you know what you’re supposed to be doing” approach.
“That’s great. I love it,” she said.
She said her greatest joy as a teacher is, “I like working with the kids and seeing that learning and that growth process and that positive growth — I really love it,” she said.
She said another thing she values as a teacher at Houghtaling is the higher number of paraprofessionals.
“That is really lovely,” she said. “It’s nice to know that Alaska has the funding and they put that funding in that one-on-one with the student, to help that student. That’s great, because if you don’t have the person there, you can look at all the data you want to, but if you don’t have that extra hand and that extra help to help that child, it doesn’t matter.”
Hill said there are a few things she’s looking forward to trying here in Ketchikan, including fishing and greenhouse gardening. She said she also looks forward to delving into the local culture, and weaving herself and her family members into the community.
Her children — one in seventh grade; one, a freshman; and one, a senior — also have been enjoying living in Ketchikan, Hill said.
“They’re liking the small classroom setttings,” she said. “They have a little more freedom because of the area, that they can walk to the rec center — I don’t have to drive them. I trust them to get there and get back, so it’s really nice. It just feels much safer.”
Of her new life and her new job in Ketchikan, Hill concluded, “This is like a dream come true.”