Albany teacher ‘builds a new model’
Posted May 25, 2016 by Liza Frenette
Brian Huskie’s refugee students are far more than beautiful, foreign faces and strange, rolling languages to him. He knows their stories, and they are entwined with his own frayed rope and hope.
He’s a National Board Certified Teacher and member of the Albany Public School Teachers Association. His teenage students are the age the children he met in Iraq would now be; the little ones on the streets when he was a soldier.
Huskie has two young sons now, and they are the age of the Iraqi children he saw as a combat soldier; children who scratched bullets on the pavement for the thrill of a tiny fire; who showed off their scars. Huskie said they burned the youngsters’ school desks one December to keep warm.
Today, his mission is to establish an endowment at the State University of New York at Albany to provide a college scholarship each year for one of those immigrant students from Albany High School. He is walking 25 miles on May 28, beginning and ending in Colonie, and Albany suburb, to raise money toward an October goal of $25,000 to establish the scholarship.
Walking with him are colleagues Mike Elliott, data coach and Albany PSTA member, and Lisa Angerame of the Albany PS United Employees.
Huskie was young, eager and full of energy when he joined the National Guard in 1999. He knew how to accelerate quickly.
After the terrorist attacks on America in 2001, he patrolled the subways of New York City for four months. Then he trained for five months at Fort Drum in Watertown, where he read “The Things They Carried,” a Tim O’Brien novel about random items American soldiers carried with them in Viet Nam. He thought it was “kind of silly.”
He was sent to Kuwait and Iraq in 2004.
Adrenalin and action marked much of his time there: ambushes, mountain patrols, “snatch and grabs” to make arrests, patrols at traffic control points and insurgent-led terror. There was an all- day battle in Samarra with tanks and helicopters as the “city fell into chaos.” There was the time he was blasted from his chair by a rocket-propelled grenade
“It was like a matrix,” Huskie said.
His troops were hit with mortar rounds on a weekly basis. He went without showers, sometimes without much food, and sizzled his energy field with a hypersensitive awareness. He was constantly testing himself, he said.
Of course, Huskie remembers the children.
“They were these little kids running around for pencils or candy. They’d scratch a bullet, take the gunpowder out and light it on fire,” he said. Huskie remembers one child who was so scared during a raid on his house that he completely went limp; Huskie’s own toddler did the same thing a few years later when fireworks scared him.
Once a father brought his dead son into a hospital the soldiers had occupied, laughing maniacally.
After six years in the Guard, Huskie became an English teacher. He sees those youngsters’ faces in his high school students.
“Many were forced out of their homes and lived in refugee camps for years,” he said. “Some were born in refugee camps and lived there until they were older.”
In class, Huskie teaches children from Iraq. “I had Iraqi kids and they talked about what it was like for them,” he said. If they didn’t help the insurgents, they would be harmed or killed. If they did help the insurgents, they would be arrested by U.S. troops, he said.
They were as young as the two boys Huskie is now father to.
He reread “The Things They Carried” and taught it as part of the curriculum.
“I had a different appreciation and perspective,” Huskie said. “I had insights other teachers might not have.” While the story takes place in the Viet Nam war, Huskie said, “There is always similarity with infantry.”
His students drew pictures and made collages of the things the soldiers carried, contrasted with the things they – the students — carry.
The refugees at Albany High come from Iraq, Afghanistan, Thailand, Nepal and Africa.
Huskie works one of his classes, and in a school garden, with teacher Alexandria Jameison, Albany PSTA member, planting radishes, peas, tomatoes and squash. On a recent day, Jameison was in her class making signs in two languages to help students link vegetables to words.
It is a way to connect.
“They know how to garden in their own country,” she said.
There are 53 languages spoken at Albany High, according to Huskie, pulling out a chart. Urdu (Pakistan) is the most prevalent of the foreign languages, followed by Karen (Burma/now known as Minimar).
Many students are 19 or 20 years old. Between reliance on oral transcripts and language barriers, it can be tough to properly place a student, said Huskie.
When he’s not working at school or parenting at home, Huskie channels the energy that has fueled him in so many aspects of his life to take long hikes of several days, and to hike in the High Peaks or in the Catskills.
He signs his emails with this quote:
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." ~Bucky Fuller
The Albany Times Union recently featured Huskie on its front page. Here is a link to that profile.