Petersburg High School has two new teachers this year. And as Angela Denning reports, they both have something else in common besides teaching…a history of wrestling.
Ryan Hayes will be the new math teacher at Petersburg High School this year. He’s taking over for Joyce Metsa who retired. Although Hayes is new to town, he’s not new to teaching or Petersburg. He was born in nearby Wrangell. He’s taught math in two remote communities in Alaska. First, in Bethel in the Southwest region for six years. The last eight years he’s been teaching in Kake.

Hayes says he first got into the idea of teaching math when he was in college in New Mexico.

“When I went to college I was a typical kid, I didn’t know what I was going to be. And my first major was business and it took me one semester to change that,” Hayes said. “At the time my girlfriend was struggling in math. We were taking the same math class so I was tutoring her. And she started bringing her friends and pretty soon I had my own cubicle in the library where I was tutoring six or seven kids. And it was fun. As much as I told her I dreaded it, it was actually kind of fun and my grades were great because of it. You know, that’s kind of where it started and then I took my first education class and went straight to observing and it was just one of those jobs that just kind of clicked. I just felt that I belonged there.”

Besides teaching math, Hayes has also coached wrestling—middle school wrestling in Bethel and high school wrestling in Kake. He says he’d like to get into that here in Petersburg but not his first year.

“When you move anywhere you’re first year it’s got to be classroom first,” Hayes said. “I want to get there I just see how I’m going to fit in. I’m definitely not going to coaching but I want to get into the wrestling room as much as I can, just wrestle around with the kids.

The other new high school teacher has a life-long history with wrestling…but we’ll get into that later.

Alenna Nilsen is the new social studies teacher at Mitkof Middle School. She’s taking over for Rob Schwartz who retired. Nilsen will be teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in the subjects of Southeast Survival, U.S. History, World Geography, and an exploratory class called Theatrics and Poetry.

Although Nilsen is new to teaching at the middle school, she was born and raised in Petersburg. She’s been away for about a decade but always made it a point to come back every summer to commercial fish with her father.

Nilsen received her undergraduate degree in Pacific University in Oregon where she also wrestled. So…back to wrestling.

“My wrestling career went from when I was seven straight on through until I was 22,” Nilsen said. “And I wrestled in college. And then from there I went on to start training in mixed martial arts, which includes Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, boxing, kick boxing, and wrestling. And from there I moved to California and signed a pro contract to be a mixed martial artist and compete.”

After two years competing against the top MMA athletes from all over the world, Nilsen was injured and forced to retire. She went back to school and earned her Master’s degree in teaching at Warner Pacific College where she also coached wrestling.

As for coaching in Petersburg? Like Hayes, Nilsen says she’s going to put her focus in the classroom the first year. She says she excited to get started.

“What I really love and I’m most passionate about teaching is the relationships that you create with the students,” Nilsen said. “I think those are the most important because teaching is tough and you have really hard days when you wonder—especially when you’re a new teacher–if you picked the right career path. I found last year because I did the long term sub position for six months here in the Sped Department is that the relationships with your students and the care that you have for them is what gets you through the hardest days.”

The first day of classes for Mikof Middle School and Petersburg High School is Monday, August 28.