Homer Alaska - Schools

Story last updated at 7:44 PM on Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ninilchik parent's request gets more than U.S. flag from Sen. Murkowski

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, center, joins Ninilchik School middle- and high-school students for a question-and-answer session Monday afternoon.

Waiting for her son, John, a Ninilchik School fourth-grader, to get out of class a few weeks ago, Cindy VanWezel noticed the U.S. flag flying above the school was a bit worse for wear. She decided to do something about it.

"I e-mailed Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Mark Begich, Representative Don Young and even Governor Sean Parnell," said VanWezel.

For her effort, VanWezel got two responses.

The first informed her she'd have to purchase a flag.

The second, received Jan. 11, was in a package containing a flag that had flown over the U.S. capitol in Washington, D.C., and a postcard from its sender, Murkowski.

"On the postcard it stated that the next time she was in town, she'd like to come by the school," said VanWezel, who sent a thank-you note back to Murkowski and gave her the contact information for Terry Martin, Ninilchik School principal.

Monday, Murkowski did visit Ninilchik. She spent lunchtime with Ninilchik School elementary students and held a question-and-answer session with middle- and high-school students in the afternoon.

During lunch, youngsters introduced themselves, shook hands and visited with the senator. The kindergarten class had prepared for her visit with a stack of questions they had carefully written and illustrated.

During the afternoon assembly, Murkowski distilled the nation's budget deficit into a simple format the students could grasp: For every dollar the U.S. spends, it borrows 40 cents. The resulting debt will reach into the future and impact their lives, she pointed out.

She was asked for her views about recent events in Egypt and the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

"You as young people should appreciate how this came about," said Murkowski, pointing to the role social networking, specifically Facebook, played in the ability to organize thousands of people.

The meaning these demonstrations and others happening in the Middle East have for the United States is yet uncertain, according to the senator, noting the United States had "built relationships with rulers, not the country."

When students brought up the high price of gas in Alaska, Murkowski said it is a frequently discussed topic. She boiled the answer down to three factors: Alaska provides a comparatively small market, Alaska lacks the refineries needed and, as a result, Alaskans pay at the pump for transportation of crude oil to refineries in the Lower 48 and the shipment of gas back to Alaska.

Murkowski encouraged high school seniors to consider applying for the summer intern program. Twenty students will be selected from across the state for a four-week session in Murkowski's office in Washington, D.C. Applications can be done online. The deadline is March 11.

"It's another world," she said of the experience the internships offer.

Before leaving Ninilchik for a visit to a school in Soldotna and a meeting with the Kenai Peninsula Borough school board, Murkowski presented Andrea Oskolkoff, student council vice president, with a copy of "The Illustrated Robert Service" to be placed in the school library.

VanWezel, a 1994 Ninilchik School graduate, recalled when she was in the third or fourth grade and the school was given a flag that had flown over the nation's capitol.

"That's something I'll always remember," she said.

VanWezel also recalled while she was a student, the school was visited by Young and Murkowski's father, Frank, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1981 until he was elected governor in 2002.

"It's something I'll always cherish and now I'm glad she came down and got to visit with the kids," said VanWezel.

According to Amy Erickson, Murkowski's scheduler, meeting with students is an important activity for the senator. "She wants to visit every school in the state," said Erickson.

The state's 54 districts include approximately 500 schools, according to information provided by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.