PUBLISHED: 3:06 PM on Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Middle school teacher cruises into Alaska living

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Karen Rigdon teaches band, choir and drama at Dzantik'I Heeni Middle School, where she often plays the piano and various band instruments.
The call of the wild brought Karen Rigdon to visit Alaska, and the sound of music brought her back to stay.

Rigdon, a band, choir and drama teacher at Dzantik'I Heeni Middle School, first visited Alaska more than 20 years ago while taking a cruise.

She said it was raining when she visited Juneau and decided to take a raft trip on the Mendenhall River.

"I got this little blue button that said 'I shot the Mendenhall River,' and 21 years later I still have it," Rigdon said.

Rigdon has lived many places, including California, Minnesota and Idaho.

Three years ago, while in Boise, Idaho, Ridgon said she was looking to move to Alaska.

"My son was about to leave for college and he went off for new experiences. So I thought 'I should have a new experience too,'" Rigdon said. "I looked in the paper the next day and saw an ad in the classifieds that said 'Would you like to teach in Alaska?'"

Rigdon's son, Ryan Rigdon, is a junior at the University of Utah.

Responding to the advertisement in the newspaper, Rigdon met with a job recruiter from the Bering Strait and made the list of hires, but the job fell through when the only music teacher at the school decided to stay at Bering Strait.

After finding another open teaching job, Rigdon flew to Juneau for an interview after pre-interviews over the phone.

"Since the job was for choir, too, I had to play the piano over the phone," Rigdon said. "It was pretty funny."

Humor is what Rigdon finds appealing in teaching grades six through eight.

"One day a child rushed in and told me her friend didn't want to take advanced band anymore and she wanted to be in beginning band," Rigdon said. "When I asked her why she said, 'She doesn't want to play clarinet anymore. She wants to play the baboon.' She meant the bassoon and it just got me laughing."

Rigdon said she gets to know many of her students well as she will teach them in different classes throughout their time in middle school.

"I really love junior high students because they are funny and full of energy and enthusiasm. I have so many laughs throughout the day," Rigdon said. "They are like little sponges at this age. They can learn to play so well so quickly if they do their practices at home."

While Rigdon plays the piano in band and choir, she also plays band instruments in her classes. As a beginning band class learned the song "Louie Louie," Rigdon began playing the trumpet then transferred to the piano. After the band instruments were put away, Rigdon used the last few minutes of the class to teach music basics.

"We have three minutes left and we're going to enhance our learning experience," Rigdon told her students.

The young band students were allowed to leave class after correctly answering which music note was in a certain space when reading music.

Aside from music and teaching, Rigdon said she enjoys activities such as traveling, cross country skiing, boating and fishing.

"I have this thing where I kiss the herring before I throw it into the water. It's my way of saying 'bring a big fish back to momma,'" Rigdon said with a deep laugh. "It's really salty tasting and slimy-but it does the trick."