Caroling in Ninilchik

The Ninilchik Senior Center was full of holiday cheer on Tuesday afternoon thanks to a group of students from Ninilchik School, with some help from the snow falling outside and the garland strung throughout the center.

A group of seven students from Ninilchik School braved the snow to visit the senior center and sing Christmas carols. The group of girls included Tala Hadro, Olivia Delgado, Fiona Denboer, Isabella Koch, Rachael Okonek, Caitlin Painter and Hailey Radford, who each elected to be a part of the school’s choir even through the formal program was cut due to dropping enrollment at the school.

“The last 10 years, we’ve had a traditional music program at Ninilchik but with declining enrollment there’s no more elementary or middle school music” said Eric Simondsen, a teacher at Ninilchik School and the leader of the choir group. “This group of kiddos said, ‘Well, we still want to have choir.’ So, we’re doing that during our academic support time.”

The choir group is completely voluntary and students receive no academic credit for their participation. The students meet with Simondsen during a free period that’s dedicated for extra help or activities during the day.

“It’s great,” Hadro said. “We didn’t feel super pressured and it was really fun. … The Christmas concert is normally our final, so it’s a lot more tension on us.”

While some of the singers could remember Christmas concerts of years past, this year is Haily Radford’s first at Ninilchik School.

“This is my first year at the school, so it’s been really fun to be a part of something so completely different. It’s really relaxed,” Radford said.

This year, with the Christmas concert gone, so was the pressure. Instead of the longer numbers, the group sang a collection of Christmas carols, ranging from the traditional “Silent Night” to “Where are you, Christmas?” from Dr.Seuss’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to spend more time on carols,” Simondson said. “Without a Christmas concert, we could really focus on them. They are a big part of our heritage and I’m happy we get to share them.”

Visitors at the senior center were also treated to fresh baked cookies from Joel Hilbrink’s foods class.

“We decided to work cooperatively,” Simondson said. “Joel was looking for an end of the semester project and the natural thing was that we needed to share (the cookies) with someone, and being the choir teacher, I was looking for the same idea.”

Enrollment at Ninilchik School has been steadily declining for the past three school years, with 150 students enrolled during the 2014/2015 school year compared to the 113 that were projected for this year for budget purposes.

Declining enrollment leads to a smaller budget and less staff, in accordance with Alaska’s Foundation Funding Formula. This year, Ninilchik saw a 10 percent drop in general funds and went from 8.66 full-time teacher positions to seven, according to the 2017–2018 budget.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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