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Second Grade Teacher In Burien Will Travel To The Arctic With National Geographic

Catherine Carbone Rogers
Highline Public Schools
Melissa Cook (left) is a second grade teacher at Hazel Valley Elementary School in Burien.

An elementary school teacher in Burien will travel later this month to one of the most remote spots on earth.

Melissa Cook, who teaches second grade at Hazel Valley Elementary School in the Highline school district, has been selected along with 39 other educators from the U.S. and Canada to join a National Geographic expedition to a set of Norwegian islands in the Arctic Ocean.

Cook’s students have started learning facts about the far north.

“I know that in the Arctic, Arctic foxes change their fur when it’s spring and winter,” said Eli Camarena-Rodriguez. “They change from white to brown.”

“There probably might be reindeers over there?” said Alexis Nicio. “There might be polar bears.”

The kids are still a little hazy on some things. For example, most of them shout “yeah” when asked if penguins live in the Arctic. (They live on the opposite side of the globe.)

Cook will travel to Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago about 800 miles from the North Pole. The expedition will last 11 days. She said she’s taking her cues from the kids about what they most want to know.

“I kind of look at it like I’m their boots on the ground and they’re the scientists in our headquarters and they’re going to send me off to do what it is they want to learn about,” Cook said.

And there’s a lot they want to know.

“Are there narwhals?” said Anthony Benitez.

“Why is it cold in the Arctic?” Isabella Arteaga wanted to know.

“Why is the ice blue?” asked Alex Mendibil.

“I’m curious about how much polar bears are in the Arctic, because I know that people are using too much electric and the Arctic used to be super big, but now it’s super small, so I think polar bears are dying,” said Kevin Chris.

Cook said many of her students haven’t had an opportunity to travel much, so she hopes to spark a curiosity about the world. Eighty percent of the students at Hazel Valley Elementary School qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Cook traveled to Washington, D.C. in March for a training with National Geographic and told her students all about it, and that got them excited to imagine traveling to the nation’s capital.

“I feel like they’re starting to see themselves in their futures as explorers and they’re like, `Well, I’m going to go to Washington, D.C., I’m going to go to the Arctic,’” she said. “They’re really honing in on these places that I’ve made come alive for them, so that’s been a really exciting thing for me.”

Cook leaves for Norway on May 26th.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.