School in Remote Alaskan Village Reaching Out via Ham Radio
You probably have never heard of Pilot Station, Alaska, but the school in the little Yukon River Delta community 400 miles west of Anchorage offers an inspiring demonstration of how Amateur Radio can help youngsters reach out to the wider world. Donn Gallon, KL7DG, a 5th grade teacher in the Yup’ik Eskimo village of about 650, has been using ham radio as a teaching tool at Pilot Station School and as a window into what lies beyond the isolated community.
“Things we take for granted like going to restaurants and malls are a rare novelty seen only on TV, unless they travel outside of the village — which is usually accomplished by taking a bush plane flight to Anchorage,” Gallon explained. “Many of the kids have trouble imagining the world beyond our region or Alaska as a whole. They are excited to pull down the globe off the shelf and find the places we are talking or listening to. This has helped them in social studies as they are getting their world view expanded by radio.”
Ham radio also is a means of reinforcing the youngsters’ exposure to standard English. Gallon said the Pilot Station youngsters can converse in the local English dialect but lack academic English skills because of the village’s isolation. “Their best exposure to English is at school,” he said. While the youngsters can be a little mike shy and reluctant to speak and read in formal settings, the students who get on the air have fun and enjoy talking to the other stations, he said.
The club has been given the green light to set up at a district-sanctioned educational program, too. Before that it had been an informal, after-school activity.
The Pilot Station School Radio Club, now WL7CXM, recently received what Gallon called “a huge Christmas surprise” from youngster in the Lampasas Middle School Youth Amateur Radio Club (K5LMS), who have “been a friendly voice during School Club Roundup,” he said. The Texas club had a surplus Mosely TA-33M beam antenna, which they packed up and shipped to the school — after signing their names and call signs to the box. The Texas kids raised the money online. The package arrived in late November.
The Pilot Station School radio club wrapped up Worked All States by snagging Oklahoma as No 50 during the School Club Roundup this fall. The club also debuted its new WL7CXM call sign during the ARRL November Sweepstakes (SSB). “The WL7 call generated a flurry of e-mails from hams wanting to schedule contacts,” Gallon said.
As for hamming from that part of the world, Gallon said that the best bands are 15 and 17 meters, and that 10, 12, and 20 meters are “hit or miss, depending on conditions.” Auroral conditions are almost always present, he added, and he’s been unable to hear anything on 80 or 160 meters or on the AM Broadcast Band.
Gallon said his goals for the new year include getting the students more active in contesting and to work on having interested students and adults get their Amateur Radio tickets. He also wants to set up an Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) team.