Special ed teacher starts at Point Higgins

Yvette Cross. Photo courtesy of Yvette Cross

Point Higgins Elementary School has a new Intensive Special Education teacher, Yvette Cross.

In an interview on the afternoon of Aug. 30, at the end of her second day of class in her new school, Cross said the size of Point Higgins is the biggest change for her, as a veteran teacher and administrator.

Previously, she was an assistant administrator in Barrow (Utqiaġvik). She also worked as an assistant administrator, as well as a special education teacher at Point Hope, and as the administrator at the school in Atqasuk, 60 miles south of Utqiaġvik.

Cross is Iñupiaq and she said her sons, who are in Ketchikan with her, had been able to participate as part of a whaling crew with her one season while living on the North Slope.

As an administrator at the Atqasuk school of 89 students, Cross said she had a diverse role.

“You’re kind of everything,” she said, including athletic director, teacher and any other role where an educator is needed.

Cross also worked in the Anchorage school district for 20 years, in addition to teaching five years in private schools.

Her special interest from the beginning was to work in smaller communities, Cross said.

“Because I really wanted to be in smaller places, I made myself employable by going to school and getting two master’s (degrees) back-to-back,” she explained.

She first earned her K-8 teaching degree, then an master’s in administration and a master’s in special education.

“I really enjoy special education,” she said, explaining that her love for special education students blossomed in her first year of teaching, when she worked with a student with special needs for the first time.

She said that even as a child, she felt “very empathetic” toward kids with special needs.

“When I look back on it, I think, gosh, you know? I can relate,” she said. “It’s almost like these kids are magnets to me and I can relate to them in the empathy that I have and the desire to learn about the disabilities.”

When Cross was searching for a new place to teach, she was looking for a special place.

“I was real specific about the road system and type of school,” she said, adding also that she “looked at report cards,” and many other aspects of the districts she applied to.

She said the road system she was looking for would enable her and her boys to get out at less expense than they experienced on the North Slope. The weather in the far north also often prevented travel and created problems with mail service and groceries, she said.

The road system of Ketchikan, however, became a challenge to her family almost immediately, as the Alaska Marine Highway System strike caused them to have to bypass Ketchikan at first, as they were driving up from Washington state. They continued on the Alcan highway to Anchorage to stay with family, then when ferry passage was open again, they drove back to Prince Rupert, British Columbia to arrive in Ketchikan on Aug. 17.

Right now, she is enjoying her new community, and said, “I am at the learning point right now, getting to know Point Higgins Elementary, the paraprofessionals, the students.”

Her biggest worry is adapting to the wet climate, especially in the winter, she said. She’s commuting to the school, which is located about 15 miles north of town, where she lives.

“The only thing I question is the weather,” she said, “what it’s going to look like for me, driving out here.”

She said that although her family previously lived in the frigid climate of the extreme northern regions of Alaska, she’s been surprised by how the rainforest feels.

“I was told if you’re going to Ketchikan, it’s going to rain all the time,” she said. “On the North Slope, it’s cold, but it’s dry. We don’t have the humidity up there like you do here. I am finding the rain is bone-chillingly cold.”

As far as her new job goes, she was all positive.

“I really enjoy working with kids with disabilities, and this job was a challenge” that she was eager to take on, Cross said. “Me, I have to find where I fit in.”