A History of the Nome, Alaska Public Schools:1899 to 1958 From the Gold Rush To Statehood
A Thesis by John Poling
An Ending and a Beginning – 1958
In 1958, in midsummer, Alaska was admitted to the Union. It was an auspicious event long yearned for by a majority of the citizens of the Territory, who saw in their new status an opportunity to exercise freedoms of American citizenship never before available to them; such simple rights as to cast a vote in a presidential election and to share as equal partners in the determination of the laws and conditions under which we might more freely live. Statehood in 1958 marked the end of a long era that was characterized by hard struggle under adversity, but yielded the happiness that rewards those who care and endure. The opening era offered a challenge that was accepted with the same alacrity that had spurred the stampeders to answer the call of the early gold strikes. A constitution had been prepared by a constitutional convention at the University of Alaska, in 1956, and the people were ready for new responsibilities of self-government. It would take time, but as in the past the tilling would bear the harvest.
While great events were in the making, the Nome Public Schools adjusted slowly to the pressures of a school population growing at the rate of fifty to sixty more pupils a year. The new elementary wing eased the crowding measurably, and a full time music teacher for all grades gave a new dimension to student life. The library contained 1239 volumes in the year 1952-53, an average of three books for every pupil. Three years later, Mrs. Cameron was assigned as part time librarian, for which work she had become qualified through summer sessions and a correspondence course. A part time nurse was employed in 1953, for the first time on the school records. Athletics, especially basketball, had become an aspect of fervent devotion by the schoolboys, who understood "body english," regardless of what the English teacher in the classroom might credit them for. Basketball playing kept many of the native boys in school, and the physical education department should be given full recognition of the part it has played in the successes of the students in completing their high school course. In 1955-56, a federal school lunch program served 105 children a day, of the 595 total enrollment. Superintendent Angell still had two more years to wait for an office clerk, but he could be thankful for Stuby Cameron, and Olaf Halverson when he faced emergencies with the child accounting and the budget preparation.
The Class of 1956 numbered nine graduates. As this year was the golden anniversary of the first graduation class, Ralph Lomen was invited to attend the commencement ceremonies. Mr. Lomen sent a congratulatory telegram from his home in Seattle, but at 70 years of age, he declined the invitation. James Walsh, ’35, was the speaker. Lutie Boardman, Ralph Lomen’s classmate of the class of 1906, had faded into history.
By the terminal year of the old Territory, 1958, 220 students had been graduated from Nome High School. Of this number, 106 were members of 36 families, representing in three families two generations of graduates, the Longleys, the McLains, and the Lyles. The largest family of children to receive high school diplomas before statehood, were the sons and daughters of Michael J. and Louise Forsythe Walsh. Eight young Walshes finished school between 1930 and 1942. Other large families to have multiple graduations were the Bells, six, with others in school; the Fagerstroms, six, with others enrolled; and the Snyders, also six. All these families are among the distinguished citizenship of the Nome community, being outstanding in their occupational and civic life.
The public schools of Nome are even more important today than in the past, when demands on the individual for a full education and training were far less critical than those made upon him by the modern world. In the most essential meaning, there is no longer a "local" school; rather there is a "public" school that owes its loyalties to the larger society that includes with the community, the State and the Nation. We must examine our meaning of "local control" in terms of "local control for what ends?"
We must strive to build our Nome Public Schools as a healthy component of the educational organization of the State, and of the Nation that becomes closer to us in our daily activities. We cannot be satisfied to send out a few well prepared graduates into the world. We must send out all our youth well equipped by educational insight to be contributors in a productive society.
The future is always ours. The trials and errors of history are ours for examination and study. If we learn our lessons well, we will not be doomed to repeat the failures of the past when we face the golden prospects that beckon toward the challenging future.