Western Alaska welcomes teachers from near and far
This year Nome Public Schools welcomes six international teachers to their staff, four of them from the Philippines. Bering Strait School District has 34 new teachers joining BSSD communities from the Philippines. This is the first year NPS has had a large group of international teachers, according to Superintendent Jamie Burgess.
“Applicants from the United States or Alaska have not been sufficient enough for our needs,” Burgess told the Nugget.
BSSD is no stranger to teachers from outside the United States. Chief School Administrator Susan Nedza said 74 of BSSD’s 220 teachers came from the Philippines to teach in rural Alaska.
Nedza, she explained in a conversation with The Nugget how over the past five years the number of Filipino teachers has increased.
“We’ve stuck with the Philippines, we started there and it’s worked out beautifully,” said Nedza. “They match up with our teachers, schools, communities and kids quite well.”
When sending out job posts BSSD begins in rural Alaska, then all of Alaska, then the Lower 48 and finally international. The district gives preference to U.S. citizens but Nedza says there just aren’t enough applicants from the U.S., forcing school districts to look overseas for teachers. This adds a layer of difficulty as school districts have to navigate the immigration system to bring in teachers. When international teachers started coming to BSSD five years ago, they came here on a J1 visa which is valid for five years. Now, the newly hired teachers are on H1-B visas, which are valid for up to six years but can be extended for longer in certain circumstances.
Teachers coming from the Philippines often have many years of experience, Nedza said. They have been practicing teachers for a while, so the transition is more cultural or social rather than academic.
Gladys Borillo arrived in Gambell from the Philippines in November 2022. After deciding on a teaching job in Alaska over Florida, almost a year later she’s confident she made the right choice.
“I really love it here, even in the winter!” Borillo told the Nugget.
Gladys had been teaching in the Philippines for 19 years when an email popped up in her inbox looking for a middle school science teacher in rural Alaska.
“I love taking risks, I accepted this job because I wanted to have an adventure,” said Borillo.
Since she was a child, Borillo dreamed of seeing snow and living in Gambell she’s seen more than she ever imagined.
Borillo still finds the weather magical, even when it hinders travel plans.
“It was so stressful,” Borillo said about the winter storm that delayed her science team’s trip to Colorado for the 2023 National KidWind Challenge in May. “I told my kids we’re not gonna make it, then all of the sudden weather is fine, and we can travel,” said Borillo.
After winning the Alaska State Clean Energy Olympics with their innovative whale baleen wind turbine blades, her middle school team, the Qughsatkut Wind Blazers, were invited to the national competition. Despite the stress of showing up to the competition late, they still performed to the best of their abilities and won a Blade Engineering Award for their whale baleen blades.
“That experience was so amazing and memorable to all of us, it was nice to bring that award back,” said Borillo.
Teaching middle school science at John Apangalook School in Gambell is much different than back in the Philippines, Borillo said. Students here have a different way of learning she had to adapt to. Just being patient and embracing a new way of teaching has helped.
“The people in town are so welcoming, I love their culture,” Borillo said. She said she has a passion to learn more and immerse herself in the culture. Having been here a year she’s already become very close with the community, especially her students.
“At first I had a hard transition because of the weather, but because of the people around you, it becomes so easy,” Borillo said.
This summer Borillo moved her four children to Gambell with her, she plans to stay a while, and experience the magic of snow with her family.