A slice of Stehekin

Freshman Aaron Abelsen has moved to Wenatchee after living in a small, remote community on the northwest end of Lake Chelan

March 25, 2015

No cell phone service, no Internet access, no cable television, and no Xbox. Without access by road — only by ferry or float plane — and without a Safeway, McDonald’s, or a mall. In fact, there is only one long, winding road with around 75 year-round residents in Stehekin, a tourist town hidden just north of Chelan and home to freshman Aaron Abelsen for the first 16 years of his life.

“A lot of kids here don’t really know where Stehekin is… and sometimes I don’t really know what people are talking about, with song artists or actors or things like that. I watch movies, but not really those that just came out. And I listen to music, but a lot of the musicians I listen to are older,” Abelsen said.

Freshman Aaron Abelsen has moved to Wenatchee High School from the small town of Stehekin.
Luke Strahm
Freshman Aaron Abelsen has moved to Wenatchee High School from the small town of Stehekin.

Abelsen went from having six students, one classroom, and one teacher at Stehekin School to 2,100 students, over 60 classrooms, and over 50 teachers in one year, and he did it all on his own. Living with his grandmother while his family stays up in Stehekin, Abelsen’s independence is rooted in a childhood on an incredibly small island.

“My little sister is still going to Stehekin. My mom’s usually the person that moves back and forth because my dad’s working up there. So she tries to spend the same amount of time back and forth… I know my grandma pretty well, so it’s pretty easy to go between them, but it’s different. Being here alone, without my little sister, mom, and dad around all the time, it’s just not the same as before. But I sort of got used to it,” Abelsen said.

Cosmically different from WHS, Stehekin School combines kindergarten through eighth grade students within one room under one teacher, Ronald Scutt, who has been teaching at Stehekin School for more than 20 years. Although Abelsen began his kindergarten years with his three best friends, he graduated with only one other companion in eighth grade.

“I found really good friends in all of them, but then one left in sixth grade, one left in seventh grade. One went to Liberty Bell High School, another left to Chelan. That’s Eli and Matthew. And there’s Simon, who stayed with me up until eighth grade,” Abelsen said.

There’s teachers here [at WHS] that really know their subject. My previous teacher got a degree in education, but he didn’t know everything. He was pretty good at math and science, but those were really the only two main subjects we did. We didn’t really have many English classes, or biology. We didn’t really even have any labs.”

— Freshman Aaron Abelsen

The population of Stehekin is always fluctuating, and because Stehekin has no high school, many families move as their kids grow older. Abelsen’s largest class size was 24, with his smallest being just six other students last year. The disparity among the students — his classroom last year was made up of one second-grader, one in fourth grade, two fifth-graders, one seventh-grader, and two eighth-graders — demands a unique learning environment.

“You knew the person that was teaching you, so you didn’t mess around that much because it was a really small class. And when you were younger, you got to learn some of the same stuff as the older kids, because we were in the same room so we got to learn some of the same things. We didn’t have different classes, we just had the year divided up into different subjects that we’d study. Everyone sort of worked at their own pace,” Abelsen said.

Without a doubt, Abelsen’s independent lifestyle in Stehekin prepared him for his move to the Wenatchee Valley at the beginning of this school year.

“Trying to get ready to come down here… it’s such a big transition,” Abelsen said.

The snowy mountains and rocky terrain make for breathtaking views from Stehekin. Stehekin only has 75 year-round residents, and school classes as small as six students.
Photo Courtesy of Aaron Abelsen
The snowy mountains and rocky terrain make for breathtaking views from Stehekin. Stehekin only has 75 year-round residents, and school classes as small as six students.

Previously, Abelsen’s school started at 8 a.m. and ended at 2 p.m., with an early release at 1:30 p.m. on Fridays. He did not transition between classrooms, but remained in the same classroom every day. His subjects were limited to math, English, science, and social studies. His lunches were 15 minutes long, and his recesses were hour-long breaks outside or in the small gymnasium.

“There’s teachers here [at WHS] that really know their subject. My previous teacher got a degree in education, but he didn’t know everything. He was pretty good at math and science, but those were really the only two main subjects we did. We didn’t really have many English classes, or biology. We didn’t really even have any labs,” Abelsen said.

Slowly adjusting to WHS, Abelsen has joined Robotics club and found new friends among his freshman class. After growing up without electronics, Abelsen still only sparingly uses the Internet to listen to music or work on school projects. In fact, he just recently got his first cell phone. Living with his grandmother, Abelsen is also enjoying eating out more often than he did before.

Incredibly independent, Abelsen continues to adjust while nostalgically looking back at his relationships with his three best friends and family members, whom he travels to visit every three to four weeks.

“I don’t know quite as many people here. Well, I think I know more people, I just don’t know them quite as well,” Abelsen said. “I make the most of it when I can see them [my family], and I keep in touch. I know I’ll see them pretty soon, so I try and do other stuff like work on my homework, or do club activities.”

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