Several new teachers, professional staff discuss what’s ahead in the new school year

Morgan Drake

A former substitute teacher in Washington state, Morgan Drake is ready to begin teaching in her own third grade classroom at Houghtaling Elementary School this academic year after arriving in the First City earlier this month.

What past teaching experience do you bring to Ketchikan?

“I was a sub in Federal Way, down in Washington for a little bit,” said Drake, who graudated this past December with a degree in elementary education and psychology.

Why did you choose to work in Ketchikan?

"It was just, I wanted the smaller community and I really wanted the third grade, because I just think third grade is my favorite grade, so it was like perfect timing,” Drake said.

Ketchikan will be a change of pace for Drake, who hails from Seattle.

“I'm really excited just to be in this small community, since I’m from Seattle, which is super big, and just getting to know the families and their students,” she said.

What are you most looking forward to about the 2021-22 school year?

Having her “own kids and her own classroom” is a highlight of the year for Drake — she has already decorated her classroom at Houghtaling in preparation for the first day of class on Thursday.

She’s eager to teach reading to her new students.

“I really love reading, because I'm a reader myself,” Drake commented. “I’m a big reading nerd. Reading is definitely my strong suit but I’m also really excited to dive into math this year, as well.”

Erin Knight

 Ever since arriving in Ketchikan just one day before the 46th Annual Blueberry Arts Festival, Erin Knight has been keeping busy exploring Ketchikan’s trails and beaches before launching into the new school year as an English teacher at Revilla Junior Senior High School.

Why did you choose to work in Ketchikan?

Knight isn’t new to Alaska — she spent two years teaching in Galena, and one year in Unalaska.

“And then I ended up moving back to the East Coast where my family is, (and) I realized I just wanted to be back in Alaska,” she told the Daily News. “And actually, two of my friends who I met when I was living in Unalaska now live in Ketchikan, and they were telling me (about) this alternative program that’s out there and were just really singing its praises.”

That program was Revilla Junior Senior High School, and having a background working in alternative education in Vermont, Knight thought it sounded like a good fit.

“It felt like a natural progression to move back to Alaska, and then also to be working in alternative ed(ucation),” Knight said. “I just really wanted to be back in Alaska, and the timing was just right.”

But before summer’s end, Knight said she’s been taking advantage of some recent sunny weather to explore the town. So far, she’s hiked the Rainbird Trail, Coast Guard Beach Trail and Ward Lake. Knight also was able to experience the 46th Annual Blueberry Arts Festival, back from a pandemic postponement.

“I timed my arrival perfectly, for weather and community events,” Knight commented. “It was great.”

What past teaching experience do you bring to Ketchikan?

Knight brings with her four years of classroom experience and six and a half years working in educational settings, including working in classrooms and alternative education settings.

What are you looking forward to about the new school year?

Knight has already had the chance to take a tour of the school, dive into the year’s curriculum and learn more about the programs offered at Revilla.

While doing so, Knight commented about the sense of community she noticed at Revilla.

“I think that I’m really just excited about the community that they seem to have cultivated there (at Revilla),” Knight said.

Joking that it sounded cliche, Knight said, “It seems like they really built a family there, and so I’m just excited to be a part of that. And to get to know the students, to have them get to know me, to just sort of continue to work and build in that community.”

Catharine Rocke

Catharine Rocke has come to Ketchikan as a visitor in past years, but finally made the move this summer to become a First City resident and the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences' new school counselor.

What past teaching experience do you bring to Ketchikan?

“I taught psychology for 14 years in Florida,” Rocke wrote to the Daily News via email last week. “I was also a therapist at a psychiatric hospital working with children and adolescents, and a counselor at a school for children with severe emotional and behavioral issues.”

Why did you choose to work in Ketchikan?

Rocke’s daughter has lived in Ketchikan for eight years.

“I have come up to visit a few times and love so many things about this town and community,” she wrote. “I have been wanting to move here for a few years.

What are you looking forward to about the new school year?

Rocke wrote that she is “looking forward to making strong connections with students and their families” during this new school year.

“I am also looking forward to seeing snow for the first time in almost 20 years, but equally glad that it doesn't stay around too long,” she commented.

Trisha Bermudez

Trisha Bermudez arrived in Ketchikan earlier this month from the Philippines as one of a few new cultural exchange teachers in Ketchikan. Bermudez will take on the role of special education teacher at Schoenbar Middle School.

Why did you choose to work in Ketchikan?

 “I’m a participant of the culture exchange program of the U.S. State Department, and I was one of the lucky ones who were able to make it,” Bermudez explained during a Monday morning interview.

She was able to choose between working elsewhere in Alaska, including the Anchorage School District, and in two school districts in California.

“When I search(ed) everything, I was really looking into which place would really best suit me,” Bermudez explained. “... Since we are for the culture exchange, the culture here is so rich, which would really be perfect for my program.”

Bermudez also said she found Ketchikan’s weather to be a reason she took the position.

She’s already been working in the building, getting ready for the new school year.

“So far, Ketchikan, … most of the people here are very friendly and I love it,” Bermudez said.

What past teaching experience do you bring to Ketchikan?

Bermudez taught special education in the Philippines for seven years.

“And I’m a trained ABA therapist,” she noted.

What are you looking forward to about the new school year?

 “I’m really excited to meet my parents, my students, and more so learn how education works in the United States, especially here in Ketchikan, how teachers work with this community, how involved are we,” she said.

Bermudez was grateful that Ketchikan’s “culture was integrated with education.”

Bermudez doesn’t know her final count of students, but estimates she will be working with six to seven students.

“I’m really looking forward to have my students experience what I have experienced … in the Philippines on how I handle students with special needs, and in those experiences, I could, like, share it with them and share it with my co-teachers, as well as to learn from them,” she said.

Joshua Porca

Joshua Porca, who recently moved to Ketchikan from the Philippines as a cultural exchange teacher, is set to teach science at Schoenbar Middle School.

Porca is ready to focus on easing his students back into normalcy after their first pandemic school year, while also working to smooth the educational transition between elementary and middle school.

What past teaching experience do you bring to Ketchikan?

Porca spent eight years teaching middle school students in the Philippines, he told the Daily News during a recent phone interview.

He always knew he wanted to be a teacher.

“Teaching has always been in my blood,” Porca said. “I come from a long line of teachers. Both my parents, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, even one of my brothers. All teachers. So essentially, teaching is in my blood.”

Why did you choose to work in Ketchikan?

“I like the classic … small town America,” Porca explained. “I actually had different offers in the states here in the U.S., but I thought Alaska, just for, I like conservative, traditional, I like family values. And I think I’ve got most of those things here in Ketchikan.”

Since moving to Ketchikan, Porca has been enjoying visiting local businesses, such as downtown coffee shops, seeing the cruise ships at the berths and taking plenty of walks.

“I get why people like to come here, to Ketchikan,” Porca commented. “It’s very relaxing here.”

What are you most looking forward to about the 2021-22 school year?

Porca noted that moving from elementary school to middle school is a “very transitional period in a kid’s life.”

“I just want this school year to be the best way for students to get back into regular things,” he said, noting that he is trying to “ease back” students into a new year of school.

Porca also aims to conduct science experiments with his class, that, “hopefully, (they) will be very interested in, and that it would greatly show their independence and their creativity and how they understand our lesson.”

Porca has already been working to set up his new classroom for the incoming school year, and has met a few other Schoenbar teachers along the way.

“And hopefully when (students) see how the room is presented, they will be more understanding (and) they will be more energized in coming to school every day,” he said.

Hilary Sauder

Hilary Sauder, who moved to Ketchikan in May with her family, will provide assistance and support to students and teachers as the district's full time occupational therapist starting this school year.

Why did you choose to work in Ketchikan?

Sauder and her family arrived in Ketchikan in May, hailing from Colorado.  

She first heard about the position in the Ketchikan School District through a local physical therapist.

"We were just looking at moving to Alaska and different places, and I had asked her where she lived and she told me, and (I) found out about the OT job openings and I applied."

While Sauder and her family were looking at other communities, including northern Alaska, Ketchikan was always a top contender.

"We actually visited Ketchikan just to check it out and we absolutely loved it, so it was kind of our high priority," Sauder explained. "I was offered positions up north, but we wanted to stay Southeast."

What past teaching experience do you bring to Ketchikan?

Sauder has worked as an occupational therapist for nine years.

 "And it's been predominantly school-based and then early intervention," she noted.

The job includes assisting "kids who need different assistance or who have different disabilities," Sauder explained, noting she works with children who need help with fine motor skills, executive function, sensory processing, visual perception or visual motor skills.

Sauder also provides assistance to teachers in the classroom.

What are you looking forward to about the new school year?

Sauder said it's the first time in "many years" that there has been an on-site occupational therapist in the school district during the whole year.

"So I'm really excited to be working with the kids and being able to provide those services and hopefully just be able to make a difference in their lives and how they function in the classroom, and helping them become more successful," Sauder said.

Along with her family, Sauder is excited to continue learning about the community.

"We're just excited to be part of the community and kind of learn about Ketchikan and just join the great group of people (here)," Sauder commented.