WASILLA — The Burchell twins are retiring, but they aren’t done working yet.
Diane Demoski and her sister LeAnn Marquard have invested well over two decades of service to their school’s youth, embedding into their surrounding community. They are both leaving for Texas after they finish the school year and throw one last party, leaving a legacy of compassion and encouragement in their wake — ripple effects that spurred ceaseless change for the better.
“We were able to do things that had never been done before with these kids, thanks to these two,” said former Burchell principal David Holmquist.
The twins apparently wore many hats over the years, going above and beyond their normal duties. They were known to stay after hours helping students.
“We always encourage student voice- always,” Demoski said.
Demoski has been the school nurse for about 29 years. In addition to her nursing role, she also spearheaded several grant funded after school programs for Burchell and other schools across the Valley. Liker her sister, Demoski is moving to Texas in July to be closer to her two youngest grandchildren. She plans to get back to work when she gets down there, perhaps some kind of nursing position like assisted care. She will figure it out in due time.
“I’m excited to start a new chapter of my life,” Demoski said.
“You can see the difference you made with the students every day,” Marquard said.
Marquard is finishing her Burchell career as an Advanced Path Counsellor, but she’s donned many different teaching roles over the years, filling the positions needed year by year. She majored in Physical Education and minored in Mathematics. She’s also taught every sport imaginable during her time there, with softball being her favorite. She isn’t sure what she will do for work down in Texas just yet, either but she may wind up coaching or teaching again.
“To say LeAnn was just a teacher and Diane was just a nurse, would be a great understatement. I’ve never met anyone who worked harder than these two. They would go to bat and never give up,” Holmquist said.
Burchell High School is an alternative high school off the Parks Highway in Wasilla. As the name implies, the school is an alternative to conventional high schools.
According to Holmquist, students from all walks of life come through Burchell’s doors. Many creative teens tend to flock to Burchell, according to Marquard. Artsy students may feel isolated and misunderstood in the public system, so Burchell can provide a safe haven for them to unfurl, finding connection and understanding.
“Art has been the backbone of Burchell,” Marquard said.
A fair amount of the students come from tumultuous homes and each year, some wind up homeless. Over the years, students have slept in the parking lot, in the shed, you name it, the sisters said. The twins were both known to spend many hours after school trying to find places for students to stay for the night. They would often mentor them and try to infuse them life tools to improve their situation.
“Before you could teach, you had to meet those basic needs,” Marquard said.