On the day she gave birth to her third child, Kara James learned that her life will be changing even more than planned.
Talking via webcam to officials at the University of Alaska, James learned that she was one of seven finalists for the Teach for Alaska Presidential Scholarship to go to a University of Alaska campus and pursue a degree to become a teacher.
James, who has been a paraprofessional working with special needs and at-risk students at Angoon Elementary for the past five years, gave birth to her son Andrew Price Jr. later that night. Then days later — this past Friday — James heard more good news. All seven of the finalists, University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen announced, were receiving the $12,000 scholarship.
James, who was born and raised in Angoon, said it felt great to hear the news, but the prospect of taking online classes and balancing work and school are new to her. Still in her hospital room at Bartlett Regional Hospital this Saturday, James laughed as she talked about how nervous she was to do interviews via webcam.
“It’s a big learning process for this village girl,” James said.
Her pursuit of a teaching career stands as a complete 180-degree turn from her mindset earlier in life.
As a teenager in Angoon, James gave in to her rebellious side and dropped out of high school. She had a change of heart eventually, and ended up going back to school and finishing three years’ worth of classes in just one year, often staying up past 4 a.m. to get her work done.
That goal-oriented mindset was one of her main pitches to Johnsen in her application process. She’s not hesitant to work hard, as she works at the school during the school year and finds a job during the summer as well, having worked cleaning floors at Whaler’s Cove Lodge on Admiralty Island.
Others have seen that work ethic as well, including Jim Parkin, the principal at Angoon Elementary and Angoon High School. Parkin was a science teacher back when James was in high school, and has seen James grow in her position. During the conference call when James learned that she won the scholarship, she immediately mentioned Parkin (though not by name) as someone who encouraged her and someone she looked up to.
Parkin was one of the co-workers who encouraged James to apply for the scholarship, and it took a while for James to come around to the idea.
“I’ve never thought about being a teacher,” James said. “I’ve always kind of just kept telling people, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do it. I’ll stick in the background.’”
Eventually, her students won her over. She’s been working with the same group of students for the past couple years, and have seen them grow up quickly as they prepare to enter third grade this fall. One student in particular, named Quincy, has especially impressed and motivated her, she said.
James has spent the past month in Juneau, awaiting her baby. She heads back to Angoon on Monday evening, along with Andrew Price, whom she’s marrying in July. It will be a busy year for her, from the newborn to the marriage to starting with classes. All that is in addition to taking care of her first two children, who are 5 and 6 years old.
James has seen her nieces head off to college, with one of them graduating this spring. Over the years, she has seen many other members of the community leave, many of them from the school. With the help of this scholarship, James hopes to become a constant presence at those schools.
“In Angoon, we have teachers come and go every single year,” James said. “It’s rare when we have a teacher that comes in there and stays and really likes it there. It’s nice to be able to have this opportunity, to try and do something and work in my hometown.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2271