Former teacher Linda Buckley leads Auke Bay Elementary School students in the school song on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Former teacher Linda Buckley leads Auke Bay Elementary School students in the school song on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Juneau elementary school celebrates 50th anniversary

The tight-knit school school has kept loose philosophy, former teachers say

At a Friday school assembly at Auke Bay Elementary, Principal Nancy Peel gave her students a few facts about the year the school opened.

“Did you know 50 years ago, if you went to the movies, it would cost you about $1.50?” Peel said.

The young audience gasped in disbelief.

“No way!” one student shouted.

Yes way: first opened in November 1968, the nearly 400-student school celebrated its 50th anniversary on Friday.

Students gathered in the school gym at the end of the school day to learn about the school’s history. About a dozen former teachers and staff were on hand to help celebrate.

Linda Buckley led the group in the school song. She knows it well: Buckley wrote the song as a member of the school’s inaugural faculty.

“I can dream a dream, make a dream come true. If I can, you can too. We’re the kids from Auke Bay!” students sang.

Fred Van Wallinga, an early principal at the school (1976-1981), traveled from his home in Willow, Alaska, for the anniversary. Van Wallinga has spent his career in education. He said Auke Bay has always celebrated students.

“I was just thinking about the assemblies here, the laughing we used to do,” Van Wallinga said.

Auke Bay had a reputation as an “elite school,” Van Wallinga said, something he doesn’t believe was fair. The enclave north of Juneau has one of the more expensive housing costs, giving it a blue-blood reputation. But Van Wallinga said the student body has a more diverse socioeconomic background than that reputation would have one believe.

“We had this huge mixture, and the goal was that every kid felt exactly the same. It didn’t matter where you’re from,” Van Wallinga said.

Built on pilings in glacial till and blue clay soils, the school itself has changed substantially since it was first built. Work was done on the 48,970-square foot in 1972 and 1991. An earthquake in 1980 forced the district to move teachers and students to Glacier Valley Elementary for a year. The school completed a nearly $11 million renovation in 2013.

As previously constructed, the school was heavy, and had sunk into the ground substantially. The new structure is lighter, making use of steel instead of structural timber, according to media reports at the time.

Former teacher Becky Seagrave called Auke Bay a “special place.” Teachers, parents and their students were close-knit during Seagrave’s tenure. Her daughter, Sarah Satre, now teaches third grade there.

“We’ve had tremendous parent support, and I think they still do,” Seagrave said.

Besides a few year-long stints abroad and at other district schools, longtime teacher Dan Hall worked at Auke Bay Elementary from 1977-2005. He agreed with Seagrave.

“It’s unique. I’ve taught in two other buildings, and there’s a cohesiveness here,” Hall said.

Peel took the job as principal last year. Enrollment bucked district trends this year and increased. Peel said they had to hire an additional teacher.

“It was projected to be lower than it actually was,” Peel said.

She thinks the school could stay open another 50 years.

“I just think it’s a friendly community. A lot of people who grew up here, they stay here, they come back here,” Peel said.

• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.

The Orca Singers sing during an assembly celebrating the 50th anniversary of Auke Bay Elementary School on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The Orca Singers sing during an assembly celebrating the 50th anniversary of Auke Bay Elementary School on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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