Teacher will show off hometown to students

Teens of remote village have never been out of Alaska

Grand Junction native Darren Kellerby, right, and Napakiak High School staff member Freda Andrew, left, are shown with, from left, Danielle Nelson, Rachael Nelson, Amanda Black and Jonathan Nokowallera. The four students will travel to Grand Junction this week with their teacher, Kellerby.  Photo special to The Daily Sentinel

Darren Kellerby has worked hard this year to smash some stereotypes.

The 27-year-old Grand Junction native and Mesa State College graduate has been teaching high school students in a remote Alaskan village for two years and is traveling to Grand Junction this week with four students.

The four, who he said are about half the enrollment of the Napakiak, Alaska, high school, have never traveled outside the state. Some haven’t even been to Anchorage, which is about 400 miles east.

“I’ve told them, people are going to ask if they live in igloos,” Kellerby said. “Family and friends in Junction don’t know about their lifestyle.

“It goes in the other direction, too. People assume a lot of things about the downstate lifestyle,” he said of Alaskans living in remote areas about their perception of Anchorage, the state’s largest city. “They assume since I’m a teacher and went to college, I must be rich. They assume everyone (here) has a two-story house. You know, what it’s like on TV.” 

Kellerby planned the excursion by using the Internet and phone calls and with help of family here. He and his students planned to board a plane and fly out of the bush Sunday to Bethel and then to Anchorage, where they were to board a commercial flight for Denver.

After driving over the mountains from Denver, they plan to spend a couple days hiking in Colorado National Monument before heading to Glenwood Springs for a rafting trip.

After that, they will head back to Denver to visit museums and Elitch Gardens and take in a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Kellerby raised funds for the adventure by working with a friend and putting on a comedy show in Grand Junction at Xian Wei restaurant during his winter holiday break.

The nonprofit group Altrusa International donated $500.

Students have been raising money at barbecues and basketball games. The teens purchased their plane fares with their permanent fund dividends, which are yearly checks from oil drilling profits that are distributed to all Alaskans.

Kellerby said the trip is important for students because it will show them that places are accessible by traveling, which can open doors to the prospect of going to college and finding careers.

“A lot of them talk about leaving the village after high school and going to college, but when the time comes, they’re just too scared to do it,” he said. “Hopefully, this will help them build up some of that courage.”

Kellerby said this will be his last year teaching in the village because he plans to move to Anchorage next year.

Napakiak has about 350 residents, the majority who are Yupik Eskimos. Students drive snowmobiles or four-wheel-drive vehicles across the ice and snow to get to school in the winter. Residents use snowmobiles in the winter and boats in the warmer months to travel 15 miles up the Kuskokwim River to the nearest town, Bethel. The area is just inland of the Bering Sea and, as Kellerby explains his location to family and friends, “just north of where they fish for ‘The Deadliest Catch.’ ”

Kellerby said he has probably learned as much about Alaskan culture from his students as he has taught them about other subjects. Sometimes that comes at a price, as locals sometimes let him figure out Alaskan life on his own.

“You should always take the hair off the walrus before you eat it,” he advised, dryly.


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