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‘River Is Getting Close’

By Greg Kim

On the first day of school in August, Principal Sally Benedict gathered her 22 high school students to explain why they had moved from their K-12 school into a detached, portable unit next door. “Technically, you guys are called displaced children,” Benedict said. “We’re doing this because of the erosion.” The William Miller Memorial School, in Napakiak, a Yup’ik village on a small island in Western Alaska, is tucked in a bend of the longest free-flowing river in the United States — the Kuskokwim. The river provides the lifeblood for Napakiak’s 370 residents, but now also threatens their existence.

How long would they be in the portable building? asked one student. Until a new school is built, Benedict replied.

During high tide, the river is only 64 feet from the high-schoolers’ original classroom, and gets closer by the day. On windy days, waves crash against the shore where students used to play, battering it until the land relents and crumbles. Exposed roots of willow trees and broken slabs of mud hang off the riverbank, telltale signs of erosion. The school district plans to demolish the school — or at least part of it — during this academic year before the river swallows it up.

Elementary students at William Miller Memorial School at recess in August.

View full article on The Washington Post Magazine here.

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