Sunday, Nataly Meyer and McKenzie Allen joined a few village youth along the banks of the Kuskokwim River in Akiachak. A few days earlier there had been a quiet rumbling throughout the village that the smelt were coming. After church, many members of the village set out in their boats to catch smelt (a small whitefish, caught with a net that’s dipped in the water) and to continue preparing their fish camps. The camps are located throughout the delta and used as a base of operation for preparing and processing the catch of fish during the season from smelt to Chinook (King) salmon, the largest of all the salmon species. The villages of the Yup’ik rely on subsistence living. With the fishing season beginning, the village is in full response to catch enough fish to feed their families through the winter. A week before we arrived, the “break-up” occurred. The frozen river had melted enough to crack and “break-up,” letting the current push the ice down river until it is melted. During the cold season the river system is used as a highway, with the ice at least four feet thick. This year, the break-up was a little later then usual, but the village is prepared. Members of the community react to the river and their routine is built around catching the fish.
Summer school affords the opportunity for students to not only begin and continue working on skills like the ABCs, counting and addition, but also learn more about their Yup’ik culture.
After learning a bit about dance fans or tegumiak in Yup’ik, the students built their own dance fans using cardboard, wooden rings, glue and feathers. Each student decorated the handles (cardboard and wooden rings) using color markers.
Traditionally tegumiak, which means a pair of dance fans, are made of woven-grass and caribou whiskers or feathers.
According to the paraeducators for the summer program, Mary and Marie, both Yup’ik women, something is usually always in the hands of people while doing Yup’ik dances. Masks are used and men may wear gloves, while usually women use dance fans.
The songs and dances tell a story, whether it’s going on a seal hunt or berry picking. Dances often start with a slow drum where people can follow the beat.
Next week, after the students finish their dance fans, some one will come in to teach them about traditional Yup’ik dances and how the tegumiak is used.
By Chris Albert, Web Content Manager
Photos by John Froschauer, PLU Photographer
Kari Olson ’11, shared a few pictures from the summer program in Tuluksak. Olson is teaching there with two other Lutes, Linnea Olsen ’12 and Alyssa Johnson ’13.
McKenzie Allen ’13 and Nataly Meyer are walking the main road in Akiachak. The dirt and gravel strip is one of the only roads in the rural fishing village, with the Kuskokwin River on one side and buildings with raised foundations on the other.
Walking along the road, the two young women stop when they see a group of children playing, which is often. It’s a sunny day in Akiachak and the Yupiit School District is just starting its summer program. These two Lutes are busy drumming up excitement and awareness that school is open.
Allen and Meyer are teaching pre-K, five-year-olds who will be attending kindergarten this upcoming school year.
Last Tuesday, they did their first bit of recruitment.
“We actually did a home visit too,” Meyer said.
“Yeah, we got invited into the house,” Allen said. “The community has been really welcoming.”
“It’s been really easy to just go up and start talking to people,” Meyer said.
They stop by a pair of girls and a little boy. The girls are a little too old for the Lute’s class, but can check out the older class. They talk about a litter of puppies that the girls are playing with and busy naming.
“It was the puppies that brought us in at first,” Allen jokes.
The Lutes start their conversations with each group of children with smiles and an enthusiastic “You should come to summer school.”
The next day the class will be making dance feathers. They tell the children they’d love to see them at school. Class starts at 10 a.m., but with sunset being past midnight, it’s life in the north to get to bed late and wake up a little later in the day. So, Meyer and Allen tell every child it’s OK if they show up at noon.
The two Lutes continue their nightly walk through town, talking to as many children as they can. Many of the children join Meyer and Allen on their walk. The two girls they first met show Meyer how to whistle with a reed. She can’t quite get the hang of it, but keeps trying throughout the walk. She eventually, gets it to work once, but is unable to repeat the sound.
Allen and Meyer say getting out into the community is a vital part in education. When the two student taught in Namibia, they did the same thing.
“You can’t just teach in the classroom, you have to connect with where they live and what they’re experiencing,” Allen said.
It’s an approach to teaching the whole student.
“It made me think I really need to go to Alaska because I know it makes a difference,” Meyer said. “Teachers always talk about building a listening community, well a big part of that is including the family and the community.”
Allen and Meyer have already seen their outreach make a difference – a few students show up that they talked to. Some not even in their class, even before noon.
– Chris Albert, Web Content Manager
The sky is a brilliant blue as Paul Berg ’71 and his wife, Virginia, pull up to the Akiachak (ACK – ee – Uh – chuck) airfield to pick us up.
Right after introductions, Berg jumps into saying how pleased he is that John Froschauer – PLU photographer and I are here to record and share the story of eight Lutes who are teaching in this remote and rural district in Alaska.
“The level of professionalism and preparation they come with is just unmatched,” Berg says of the Lutes – all recent graduates, most this past May.
These Lutes are here to teach pre-K through 3rd grade in a summer program that runs from June 5 to June 21.
Berg has been working with the Yupiit School District for a number of years. The connection he’s seen develop with PLU’s School of Education and the caliber of teachers they produce has him in a constant state of thanks.
“It’s just so positive,” he said.
After dropping off our gear at the school, which is every bit equipped to provide an education as any new school in a big city, John and I headed to the Yupiit School District main office to meet with Acting Superintendent Kim Langton and Assistant Superintendent Diane George.
Langton starts our meeting by saying, “These young women are just ahead of so many other people their age,” speaking about the PLU teachers.
“My opinion is they are of the highest caliber,” George echoed.
And they are equally impressed of the ideas and enthusiasm Jan Weiss brings to the district. The PLU professor was first contacted by George about bringing PLU teachers to the village district in 2012.
The experiences the eight Lutes and Weiss have had teaching in Namibia brings their ability to educate to another level, Langton said.
“These ladies understand we need to look at the whole child,” Langton said.
(Next…meeting our Lute teachers…McKenzie Allen ‘13 and Nataly Meyer ’13 bring us along for a walk through the village to get students excited about the summer program.)
-Chris Albert, Web Content Manager