A Home in Forks, WA

  • Thu Jul 18th, 2019 11:33am
  • Life

By Tom Goenewal

January 31, 1992

I have been teaching at Neah Bay schools this week. It started with a High School English class, then sixth grade, then “Coach’s” PE classes, then back at the High School English again for Ms. G who will be out for a week. This is not an average school. Students are Makah. There are a few white kids in the school and I’m not sure how they fit in, whether they are Coast Guard kids or their parents have a business or work at the Tribal Center.

Students are very close to each other. They are kind and considerate; they listen to each other and are genuinely concerned about each other. There is some of the typical kid stuff such as teasing in a joking way, but it is not cruel. They do seem to respect each other.

I have been very laid back in the first few days of classes trying to win their respect and not being too heavy with discipline or try to do excessive assignments left by the teacher. We take attendance and I try to learn their names, we talk about them and what they do with their lives. We talk about me and what I am doing with my life. We both find that we take each day as it comes, not too much planning. I have gained some trust and it is much easier to encourage them to do assignments and participate in class lesson discussions.

February 1, 1992

Driving rain and powerful winds on my way into Neah Bay this morning. The road follows the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a narrow winding passage cut out from the steep cliffs. The road is soon blocked by a landslide and the Clallam Co. crews are out working to clear the trees, rocks, and mud. As I approached the slide a flagman halts me to a stop. I can see that they have been there for a while dragging trees out of the road and loading mud into a dump truck.

They were about to begin hooking up more trees to a truck, and knowing it would take a while I got out and told the flagman that I was a teacher and had to get past to make it to the school on time. I didn’t want to have a high school classroom with no teacher; I don’t think anyone does. Without a word the flagman signals to the crew. He points toward me and yells out to the crew. Instantly the crew and trucks parted allowing me a way through. I fish-tailed through the mud and continued on with waves and smiles from the boys.

February 2, 1992

1st period the lights go out. Power outages are a common occurrence in Neah Bay. The lines have a long way to run from the nearest substation and the trees and terrain are not stable during high winds and torrential rains. “Yea!” they yell. I am in agreement. It so happens that I brought my hiking gear along today with a plan that after school I would head for the ocean beach to do some exploring. “Can we leave,” they ask? “I hope so, but they will let us know.” “If we do get out, does anyone want to go out for a hike along the beach?” All of the guys in the class want to go and immediately start planning where the best hike would be. We decide to go to Shi Shi beach. None of them think about a pack, water or the fact they are wearing sneakers.

Within a few minutes, the secretary comes in to let us know that they have been in contact with the superintendent to determine if we can be dismissed. The decision will be made if we can leave once they get a report from the helicopter that has already been dispatched to determine where the break is and how long it will take to repair the damage.

An hour later the dismissal comes and three of the guys come back into my class ready to leave for the hike. It seems that the whole school was aware of my wanting to go for a hike and they had worked it out that these three would be the ones to go since only three could fit in my truck. Teachers, principal, and students thought it was great that I wanted to go hiking with students. A field trip they called it.

To be continued ….