Last year Godwin’s science department chair and physics teacher Micheal Fetsko received the R.E.B. Award for Teaching Excellence. With the grant money from the R.E.B. award, Fetsko had the privilege to visit Alaska and many of its national parks this summer. 

Fetsko had first considered going to Europe and visiting Italy or England, as well as visiting California. Yet he and his family decided Alaska was the best place.

“I chose Alaska because I have always wanted to travel to see the state and National Parks. There are a lot of outdoor activities to do in Alaska which is what I love to do with my family. Also, with the important issue of climate change it seemed to me that the best place to see the impacts [on] the glaciers of Alaska,” said Fetsko.

Fetsko went with his wife and two sons, from June 28th to July 8th. They took a plane and then rented an SUV to get around. They stayed in the towns of Cooper Landing and Healy. Fetsko quickly learned something while he was traveling around Alaska.

“I am not a big fan of ATV tours. I learned that I like to explore the outdoors without engines,” said Fetsko.

Another thing that Fetsko learned, which was the main reason why Alaska was chosen, was the impact climate change was having on Alaska. 

“Climate change is having a significant impact on Alaska. The glaciers are receding at a rate of 200ft per year, the winter temperatures have increased dramatically so the winters are not as long and Alaska is not receiving as much snow as it used to be receiving. Pretty much everything you hear on the news, I was able to see first hand. It is happening and some major changes need to happen,” said Fetsko.

Even with the surprising news about climate change, Fetsko and his family did have some great experiences. They were privileged to see Alaska’s wildlife, including a pod of orcas, a humpback whale, a moose, and a bear. 

They managed to see Denali mountain, which only 30% of visitors can see due to rain and clouds obscuring the view. They were able to eat Alaska’s traditional foods, caribou steaks, reindeer sausages, and a lot of seafood. Fetsko and his family were even able to ice climb a glacier.

“Ice climbing was my favorite part of the trip. I love hiking so in order to even do the trip we had to hike about 8-10 miles up and down the glacier/mountainside. Ice climbing is hard work, but it was amazing and an experience that I certainly could not have had here in Virginia. Rappelling down into the crevasses and essentially being surrounded by ice and blue sky was amazing. We were able to go down as far as we wanted, which was not too far simply because you had to climb back out. Just walking around the actual glacier was amazing and I even drank glacier water,” said Fetsko.

Fetsko was disappointed when one of his tour guides announced that ice climbing wouldn’t be possible in the next year or two due to climate change and the melting of the glacier. Fetsko was shocked by how far the glaciers have receded and that some of the valleys he saw used to be covered in ice. These discoveries have impacted his teaching career.

“I just feel more motivated to make sure that my students understand what impact our decisions have on the globe and that climate change is occurring and that we need to do something about it,” said Fetsko.

Even with all the shocking discoveries, Fetsko encourages students to go outside and explore, especially if students want to travel to Alaska. He warns students to be cautious of moose and bears, but more than anything to explore and see many of Alaska’s glaciers. Fetsko is certain that he would love to go back to visit more of Alaska’s National parks and to go during the spring or fall to see the Northern Lights.

“I’m still working on how I am going to bring my experiences back to the classroom, but I will.”

Denali Mountains photo credit Mike Fetsko

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