Back to Yupiit!

Boyoboy I haves some blanks to fill in! 

I’m sitting outside my District-provided apartment that I share with a 2nd grade teacher in the breezy sun. Whenever it isn’t raining in Akiachak, there is the constant growl of 4-wheelers here. It is REALLY muddy this far down the Kuskokwim river. The silt of the hundreds of miles of Alaska the river passes through for the thousands of years means this village rests on a fine layer of silt. The roads are very challenging to walk on – at the busiest sections its three inches of slick mud surrounding deep potholes.

I’m sitting on one of those chairs as I type this! See what I mean by the mud?

I took a job with the Yupiit School District – job title ANE Grant Director – and started work 4 days ago. The ANE Grant is a Federal grant that is providing a little over $800,000 per year to the District. I wish I could tell you in a few sentences just what it does, but I can’t. It was written three superintendents ago, and is a hodge-podge of different ideas and individual programs – many not thought through very well – for kids aged 0-19.  This is the second year of the grant, and pretty much nothing happened the prior year, other than spending a good hunk of money on a fly-by-night contractor for Project Based Learning that had pretty low impact, but did afford the District the opportunity to buy drones. I wrote about this grant at length in my final report for my work in Tuluksak last semester. I was actually offered the job to direct this grant by the current superintendent last year, but declined it.

So, over this summer, as I was closing up my Community Schools business, I was searching for my next direction, and thought I’d check to see if anyone had been hired to direct the grant. One thing led to another, and…

It was super tough to leave Kayla, and Sitka, and a life and community that I love so dearly to come up here. Especially when I think that I can probably measure our time remaining in Sitka in months now (Maybe this is news to some: Kayla and I are thinking of leaving AK for new adventures sometime in the summer of 2021. This isn’t set in stone, but that’s the direction we’re facing these days).  My time in Tuluksak prepared me for this round for sure. I know what I’m getting in to. 

My plans with the grant are to focus on one component of the grant that is all about finding ways to empower students to make a positive impact on their village through project-based learning (hereforth abbreviated PBL). There’s a bunch of other goofy stuff I have to deal with in this grant, but let’s talk about the fun stuff. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

  • to work with the Akiachak Tribe to contract the senior class to clean up the trash around the main river access. I’ll work with a science teacher and Language Arts teacher to
    • have kids write a proposal for what they want to do, and to use the tribe’s trash-wagon (which can mount to the back of a 4-wheeler) in Language Arts.
    • Science teacher will do some small prep on river health.
    • Collect the trash for a few hours. Sort trash and catalogue it for science class. Maybe during this time have a talking circle about the Yupik value of “respect for land, respect for nature”
    • Language Arts writes up an article to submit to the Delta Discovery, the newspaper of record for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta region.
  • I want to do a similar thing working with the shop class to rebuild a section of boardwalk.
    • I’ve even connected with the crew that has been working in the village for the past three years installing a water/sewer line, and they are going to loan me their chief carpenter to come to shop to help them work up a good design for the boardwalk.
    • Once we have one 8 ft section of boardwalk rebuilt (right by the tribal gov’t offices, btw), then work with Language Arts to help youth submit an estimate to the Tribe for repair or building of other needed sections of boardwalk.

That’s the kind of stuff I’m going to try to get going in all three villages. The only way I see to get this done is to be there in the mix with the teachers and kids. So, once I’ve gotten a project or two done here, my plan is to settle into another village for a week or two to get things going there. That will be one fun perk of my job: experiencing each of the three villages in the District, which are very much have their own personalities.

2 thoughts on “Back to Yupiit!”

  1. Yes, boardwalks are used in this area as sidewalks. If they poured concrete, it would just sink into the mud. Most of the existing boardwalk that I’ve seen is made with pressure treated wood, which has to be shipped in at great expense. There’s the possibility of using local lumber, though! Both this school and Tuluksak have lumber mills. I’m going to keep researching that.

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