- Associated Press - Monday, January 20, 2014

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - Although faced with uncertainty about the future of the school that employs her in Afghanistan, Katie Watt is certain she wants to get back to teaching there.

The 22-year-old was recently home in Yankton for the holiday break after wrapping up her first semester of teaching third grade at the International School of Kabul (ISK), which is the only fully-accredited, coeducational, international K-12 school in Afghanistan.

“I’m excited, but I’m more nervous going back this time,” Watt told the Press & Dakotan (http://bit.ly/1fyQBdo ). “I don’t know why. I think it’s just because we don’t know what is going to happen in the next five months with the status of the school.”

Among the issues that could have an impact on the school’s future are funding issues, the April 5 presidential election and the impending decision by Afghanistan leadership about whether to agree to a bilateral security agreement with the United States that would allow more than 8,000 U.S. troops to stay beyond the end of the year.

Watt said her class of 21 has declined to 18.

“People don’t know what is going to happen next year, so the people who can leave are starting to leave,” she stated. “They know that if things go poorly, they want to be out of the country on their own terms.”

The cloudiness of the future hasn’t prevented Watt from deciding that she will commit to another year at the school.

“That’s one of the first things our kids ask us when they come into the classroom: ‘Are you going to come back next year?’” she said. “It kind of shows how much they appreciate us being there but maybe don’t want to invest in you if they don’t think you’ll be coming back. When I saw their faces, it wasn’t as hard of a decision to come back.”

During the first semester, Watt said she observed growth in herself and the students.

“After four years of education, you’d think you’d be really prepared, but you’re really not because they can’t teach you how to bounce back when things go poorly in a lesson or students don’t behave,” she stated. “Classroom management has gotten much easier, as has lesson planning. The students have been changing, too. They’ve been learning. The children who fight have been fighting less. That’s really encouraging. I don’t know if I could stay if I hadn’t seen a change in their attitudes and academics.”

ISK has been attempting to raise money for a new location because it currently has to rent facilities at a high price, according to Watt.

Furthermore, many of the students who attend ISK depend on its Tuition Assistance Program. Annually, the school awards more than $200,000 in scholarships. A large portion of that funding is in danger and could result in the loss of more than 100 students, Watt said.

As a fundraising effort, ISK recently broke a world record for cutting out the longest paper doll chain. The ISK wanted to get a dollar for each of the 100,000 dolls.

“It was cool for the kids. They really thought it was a neat thing,” Watt said. “We were hoping to raise $100,000 and we only raised $12,000. We got the word out as much as possible, but no one really wanted to give.”

Parents and local leadership are supportive of ISK, and Watt said hope is not lost.

“I think things like this have happened a lot in the school’s history. Somehow, something always pulls through,” she stated. “We have the support of staff that have been there seven or eight years saying, ‘This looks really bad, but something will likely work out.’

“If it doesn’t, if we still feel like we’re led to be there, something will pull together,” Watt continued. “I think it’s easier for those of us who are new to have optimism when we’re looking into it, because we haven’t been there as long and haven’t been discouraged as many times.”

Watt said it has been somehow easier to maintain optimism in Afghanistan than when she was back in Yankton.

“Being in Afghanistan and looking toward the future is not as scary,” she stated.

While home, Watt spoke to a group at Calvary Baptist Church and to students at Webster Elementary School. The school did a fundraiser to purchase items Watt needs in her classroom - something for which she said she was very grateful.

Watt has left for Afghanistan, and said her time at home with family was very enjoyable.

“You come back and everything is the same as when you left,” she stated. “You know that you’re different, but you don’t know how that fits into what is going on back home. Everything felt really normal.

“I don’t feel like I’ve processed any of what has happened in the past five months,” Watt added. “It’s like there are two different parts of my brain. I flip on the Afghanistan side and then slip on the stateside one again.”

Watt will return to Yankton for two months starting in mid-June.

“I plan to travel as much as I can and talk to as many people as I can to generate more interest in the school,” she said.

Watt writes a blog to keep friends and family updated on her experiences at http://misswatt.blogspot.com .

___

Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

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