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All in a day's work: Teacher commits to commute

Alissa Widman Neese • May 3, 2014 at 6:50 PM

Teacher Angie Green paced her classroom, prepared to deliver a vocabulary lesson.

“Today’s words are ‘gigantic’ and ‘enormous,’” she explained. “What things have you stood next to that are gigantic or enormous?” All was silent.

A single, smiling face stared back at her: Viktoriya Skeans, 4, Kelleys Island School’s lone student.

See more photos of Angie's commute and classroom with Viktoriya in Sunday's Sandusky Register

“My dad?” she earnestly replied. Green chuckled. When your hometown is on a secluded island, there’s plenty of world left to see. To help Viktoriya understand the concept, Green helped her color a picture of Horseshoe Lake, one of her favorite fishing spots on the island. Dolled up in a frilly dress and hot pink boots, the girl hardly appeared an outdoor enthusiast.    

Apparently it comes with the territory — and Viktoriya’s traveling teacher is always ready to listen to her Kelleys Island fishermen tales.

“My dad and I caught a big one there once,” she told Green, stretching out her arms.

Since September, Green has commuted to Kelleys Island as many as three times a week to teach Viktoriya. She travels to the coast from her home in Berlin Heights, then hops on a ferry or plane, depending on the weather.

Despite this year’s bitterly cold winter, Green consistently journeyed over frozen Lake Erie. She hasn’t missed a lesson yet.

“It’s been an adventure, and I’m definitely learning as we go” Green said.

Green has taught in several local schools and continues to substitute teach, but few job opportunities compare to her new gig, she said.

“We hit it off right away,” Green said. “My favorite part is being able to watch her grow in such detail. We’re learning letters and sounds right now, the basics of reading, and being able to catch that moment and work with her on the little things is really special”

Viktoriya’s preschool lessons are a delicate balancing act, as Green often assumes the unique role of both educator and playmate.

Some days they’re the only ones occupying the Kelleys Island School building, which has indefinitely ceased its normal operations.

When the island’s quarry closed in 2007, rupturing the local economy, many families sought employment on the mainland, leaving very few children to educate. In 2010, the island’s population hovered around only 300 or so people, according to the U.S. Census.

Recently, Kelleys Island School has been converted into a sort of community center, housing educational programs for adults and students visiting from other schools throughout the state.

But thanks to Viktoriya, there’s hope some traditional operations can stay in business.

“A few children open enroll to the mainland, but we didn’t feel comfortable with Viktoriya going over alone yet,” her father said. “So they’ve reopened the school to her, in a sense”

Bobby and Nataliya Skeans, Viktoriya’s parents, have established themselves quite well on Kelleys Island in the past eight years.

Bobby is a firefighter and emergency medical technician who sells firewood on the side. Nataliya sells handmade soaps. Both also work at the popular Village Pump.

The Skeans family plans to stay on the island — as long as they continue to provide Viktoriya and her 1-year-old brother, Nikolay, a quality education.

“It’d break our hearts to leave here,” Bobby said. “Angie’s a great teacher, and she’s really gone above and beyond our expectations to ensure Viktoriya can go to school. I don’t see us going anywhere”

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