Kodiak, Panhandle Schools, Turn to ‘Culturally Responsive’ Curriculum

Aaron Bolton/KSTK
Four years ago, in 2012, the Alaska Department of Education created cultural standards for Alaska Native education. The five standards aim to guide school districts across the state towards culturally-responsive teaching.

Kodiak, along with seven Southeast school districts, are partnering with the Southeast Regional Resource Center – or SERRC – to meet those standards, starting this fall.

The Hoonah, Kake, Wrangell, Klawock, Craig, Sitka, Skagway and Kodiak school districts are using SERRC’s professional development program known as “Passages for Academic Success” this fall to meet the state’s five Native education standards. SERRC is an educational non-profit that provides professional development and education programs.

The cultural standards were created to better engage students by bringing local Native culture and environmental lessons into the classroom, attending community events, and working with parents.

Wrangell School Superintendent Patrick Mayer says the standards are largely vague, but Passages will help narrow them down for the classroom.

“While the cultural standards may be somewhat general, they become more specific as you develop curriculum, curriculum maps and also individual lessons that would have components of the cultural standards built in,” he said.

What this will look like in the classroom could actually be pretty simple. Teachers can use examples such as high and low tides to teach positive and negative integers, or show how skin sewers estimated length using their thumbnail.

“It’s helping teachers learn that they have to get to know their students better,” Mayer said.

Gerry Briscoe is SERRC’s director of professional learning. He says Passages will help teachers make their lessons stick.

“That what is culturally responsive teaching is about, is to build those connections, to build those bridges between the content that teachers are responsible to teach and are accountable to teach, but doing it in ways that bring more engagement and are more motivating, that help kids connect that learning to the life around them,” he said.

He says SERRC will visit each district for in-person training, but most will happen remotely Some of that training includes videotaping teachers in the classroom. SERRC will review the videos and give teachers feedback. Briscoe says those videos will not be made available outside of SERRC.

Teachers will also have access to online classes and will have tools to use in the classroom.

“So the teachers and the kids can learn the Tlingit and Haida language through some new apps that are being developed for the purposes of this grant,” he said.

Briscoe says SERRC also partnered with the Sealaska Heritage Institute to digitize many instructional materials it has created.

The state created a four-point rating scale to evaluate teachers on each of the five standards. There is no requirement to use that scale and evaluations won’t have any bearing on a teacher’s salary. Superintendent Mayer says he’s not sure how the review process will look and wants to focus on getting Passages off the ground first.

The program was funded by a $3 million federal education grant which will run out in 2018. Briscoe says the online portions of the program will continue to be available to districts free of cost.

“So we’ll just be trying to reach as many teachers as we can throughout the rest of the year and coaching them through that process.”

Briscoe says Alaska Native leaders will review all cultural resources that are developed.

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