Birchwood ABC celebrates 50 years

Thursday, September 14, 2017 - 11:48
  • Second-grade teacher Holly Boothe organizes her classroom at Birchwood ABC Elementary School in Chugiak on August 15, 2017. The local alternative school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • Birchwood ABC Elementary School in Chugiak on August 15, 2017. The local alternative program is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)
  • A second-grade classroom at Birchwood ABC Elementary School in Chugiak on August 15, 2017. The local alternative school is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year. (Star photo by Kirsten Swann)

The week before classes began, Birchwood ABC Elementary teacher Holly Boothe sorted through the piles of books spread across the desks in her room, preparing for her ninth year teaching in the school she once attended as a student.

“It’s the start of a new cycle, the start of a new time; it’s kind of refreshing and renewing,” Boothe said. “I always enjoy the beginning of the school year.”

This school year is special, according to Birchwood parents and teachers. This year marks Birchwood ABC’s 50th anniversary.

The elementary school off South Birchwood Loop Road has educated generations of Chugiak-Eagle River residents. Boothe – who graduated from Chugiak High School and attended college in Washington – later returned to Chugiak to land a teaching job at her childhood elementary school

“Birchwood was definitely a school that I really wanted to get back into, not just for the sentimental value of going back to the elementary school that I attended, but because I really believe in the Birchwood philosophy and the way that we do things here,” she said. “I wanted to be able to continue that, I guess.”

A neighborhood alternative school, Birchwood does things a little differently than other local elementary schools. Students come from the surrounding areas and outside, admitted via lottery. Classrooms are heavily influenced by the Birchwood Advisory Committee, an elected group of parents who help research curriculum and other instructional issues.

“We kind of get more parent voice at this school as to what our kids are being taught versus what gets taught at other schools,” said BAC president Paige Saylor while she was preparing to lead an advisory committee meeting in her Eagle River home the week before school began.

Like other parents at the Monday, Aug. 14 gathering, Saylor said she’d specifically sought out the local magnet school for its specialized curriculum, strong community ties and opportunities for parental involvement.

“I feel like more parents are involved in their education, because they have the option to be,” Saylor said.

“We chose this school because it was very familiar to the curriculum my children were getting in the Lower 48 at a private school,” said BAC member Kristyne Montero.

Besides the parent-approved curriculum, Birchwood emphasizes things like academic excellence, character development, good citizenship and patriotism, according to school administrators and teachers. It’s been leaving its mark on Chugiak-Eagle River for half a century now.

“I 100 percent believe that Birchwood set me up for success,” Boothe said, unpacking boxes in her quiet, cluttered classroom at the school on a recent Thursday morning. “I think it’s neat to be able to come back and continue that with the students that I’m able to work with here.”

To learn more about the school, visit birchwoodabc.asdk12.org or find them on Facebook.

Contact Chugiak-Eagle River Star reporter Kirsten Swann at kirsten.swann@alaskastar.com.

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