Ayaprun Elitnaurvik celebrates new location at Kipusvik

Bethel elder Lucy Crow conducts the blessing with the feather fan and smoke dish during at the grand opening of the Ayaprun Elitnaurvik at the Kipusvik building. photo by Greg Lincoln

by Greg Lincoln

The American flag that once graced the Kilbuck School and an Eskimo drum cauyaq that once kept the beat to songs danced by the students at Ayaprun Elitnaurvik before a fire destroyed their school are now proudly displayed at the Kipusvik building – the new location for the Yup’ik Immersion School.

Ayaprun staff, Lower Kuskokwim School District officials and administration, members of the local advisory school boards, members of the Academic Policy Committee (APC), parents of students, elders, and community members all came together to celebrate their togetherness at the grand opening, having all Ayaprun students housed under one roof. The celebration took place last Tuesday, March 15th, four months after the fire.

On November 3, 2015 a fire devastated the Kilbuck School located in the heart of Bethel obliterating the home of the Ayaprun Immersion School and the Kuskokwim Learning Academy (KLA).

The community came together rallying support for the displaced students. KLA was transferred to the Yuut Elitnaurviat campus. The older Ayaprun students were welcomed into the Gladys Jung Elementary and the little ones were quickly taken in at the LKSD District Office building.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time,” said Ayaprun principal Sam Sak’aq Crow who said that his knees were shaking.

The children sat on the floor with their teachers as longtime educator Loddie Jones, whom the school is named after – Ayaprun – spoke to the assembly.

“These children are our future. They hold our language in them,” she said speaking in Yugtun. “Mikelnguuq ciuliarkaqaput. Qaneryaraput tegumiaqait.” She beseeched those who still speak Yup’ik to speak it to their children. She touched on several Yup’ik worldview themes: speak Yup’ik, respect your surroundings, love each other, if someone hurts you or is mean to you, get up and leave – no retaliation or getting even with them. Other values she spoke of were sharing, helping those in need, and more love, always love. Love your mom and your dad, love your teacher. And then there was the spiritual thanksgiving with the puyuq and the Blessing Song Taarvagnaumken which originates from Nelson Island.

Drumming and singing were Paista Maurice Nanalook and Ben Agimuk while Ayaprun staff stood and danced. They were joined by a dozen students.

Clarence Daniel, an Ayaprun parent and the chairman of the APC introduced the members of the committee who were present.

“Tragic losses require healing. Part of healing shows emotions,” he said as he spoke about that day, November 3rd. “Don’t be afraid to show your emotion. Little did we know that our lives would change. Yuuyaraq – the rules of living. We use those to get through this. Ukvertarluta, and faith, and hope.”

He invited the APC members who were present to say a few words, which they all did. APC member Alvin Jimmie said he couldn’t sleep the night before, he was so happy for the kids.

“A lot of mixed emotions – we’re back together again. We are all one,” he said. “It is so nice to see the support and I looked forward to seeing everyone gather together again.”

69 days, that’s how long we were apart, said Ayaprun teacher Anman Gill. Anman speaks fluent Yup’ik and that is what she spoke as she gave her speech. She recognized everyone who worked so hard to keep Ayaprun together.

“Quyumta piarkaugukut,” she said.

After the presentations, the students ate lunch for the first time in their new location before getting back to their classrooms.

The public was invited to visit their children’s rooms and to have lunch and enjoy each others’ company. The younger children’s classrooms are located on the lower level and the older children have their classrooms upstairs. The Kipusvik Suurvik Cinema is still open.

The move to the spacious Kipusvik building is temporary for Ayaprun Immersion until a new school will be built for them. Quyanaq!