By Chelsea Lacey-Mabe

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Tomorrow marks the first day of summer vacation for kindergartners at Shaktoolik School in Alaska. The five and six-year-olds have learned a lot this past year — perhaps just much as their teacher, Miss Catherine King, who’s looking forward to spending her summer back home in Oxford, Pennsylvania.

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Last July, just two months fresh off of her graduation from Bloomsburg University, King packed her bags and left “the lower 48” for a teaching job with the Shaktoolik School District.

Hawaii isn’t the only one with high teacher vacancies and aggressive recruitment strategies. School districts in Alaska send representatives to different parts of the country including Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, Michigan and Pennsylvania to recruit recent teaching grads.

“At first [my parents] were kind of like ‘what the heck’ but as competitive as it is in education right now in Pennsylvania I think they thought ‘well you have a definite job,’ and the salary is a lot better than it would have been getting in Pennsylvania,” said King. “Once they thought about it for a little bit and it sunk in and they realized I was going to do it, they kind of went, ‘well when else would you do it?’”

First day of school 2015 (credit: Catherine King)

First day of school 2015 (credit: Catherine King)

The Shaktoolik school district provides the teachers with housing. King’s duplex is so close to the school that she can walk, unlike her students, who arrive to class via snow mobiles or four-wheelers.

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When her students leave for the day there’s still more than six hours of sunlight left — it doesn’t start getting dark until close to 11 p.m. as they approach the summer solstice. In December and November though there’s only a short window of daylight hours and kids come and go to school in the dark.

“It’s easy when that happens to kind of get sad and it gets in your head but that is why I think the culture here is so community-based, because when it’s dark you need people to talk to and do things with,” said King. “And then when it’s spring time, like right now, it’s beautiful out, it’s high 30s, sun’s shining — you can stay out til 10 and not know and think it’s 5 p.m.”

Shopping was another adjustment. With just four stores in the entire village, bigger trips to the grocery store meant getting on two planes, including a six-person hopper to get to the Costco in Anchorage.

Living in Alaska has required King to try new foods like beluga meat in this salad. (credit: Catherine King)

Living in Alaska has required King to try new foods like beluga meat in this salad. (credit: Catherine King)

“The thing is learning the little tricks that people use to get what they need,” explained King, who flies with a cooler as her carry-on to transport dairy products and other refrigerated items to help save money. If she did the bulk of her shopping at the food store in her district she’d be looking to spend around $20 for a block of cheese and $8 for a loaf of bread. “The other weird thing is there’s no fresh produce because you can’t grow it here and it won’t last by the time you fly.” King and her roommate get their fruit and veggies mailed to them instead through a produce subscription service called Full Circle. They rely on Amazon and for everything else. King says they have to plan for packages to take at least two weeks to get there.

Even though Shaktoolik is so different from her hometown of Oxford, King says she’s excited to return in August for her second year of teaching and to add more to her list of new experiences. In just one year she’s seen a beluga whale, met mushers in the Iditarod and has watched locals skin seals and turn the skins into mittens–experiences like this have allowed her to relate to her students and make their lessons more meaningful.

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Shaktoolik Kindergartners (credit: Catherine King)

Shaktoolik Kindergartners (credit: Catherine King)

“When I was moving up here I was like ‘what if I don’t have internet, what if I don’t have a phone, I’m going to be out in the middle of nowhere’… which I am, but it’s still a functioning community,” said King, recalling her nerves last summer. “I can say it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made, hands down.”