Listen to the story:
A new, 6-week unit piloted in Kodiak High School biology teacher’s Sarah Nugent’s classes this semester focused solely on Kodiak brown bears. Two of Nugent’s classes – about 40 students – participated in the course, which ran throughout April and into May. Each week, a bear expert presented to the class as part of the program; guest lecturers included local biologists and wildlife photographers.
Jennifer Culbertson sits on the board of the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust – a conservation and research group that helped curate the high school program. She said lessons were aimed towards freshmen and sophomores in high school.
“They still have a few years here in Kodiak before they graduate and possibly go to college,” she said. “The biology classes are sophisticated enough that we could teach bear physiology and some of the finer points of bear behavior and get a message across.”
That message included how to coexist with Kodiak bears, which tend to frequent popular hiking trails and even residential areas during the summer months.
And it resonated for some students – like Leah – a freshman in Nugent’s class. She said biology isn’t her favorite subject, but she enjoyed listening to the speakers and learned a lot from the way the course was structured.
“I prefer English and after each week we would have to write a paragraph on it and that was probably one of my favorite parts of it,” she said.
The 6-week program also included a capstone project; students could either design a sticker or record a TikTok video showcasing what they learned. Two local sightseeing companies, Sea Hawk Air and Kodiak Air Service, donated bear viewing flights, and students with the most informative projects win seats on the plane.
Nugent said getting kids excited about science through bears is a win in her book.
“Our students are learning and they’re growing and they’re gaining vital information that might not be reflected in a standardized test score,” she said.
Nugent plans to incorporate the course into future biology classes. And Culbertson – of the Kodiak Brown Bear Trust – said the group hopes more teachers pick up the program next year.
Editor’s Note: Marques Rivera’s name was originally spelled incorrectly in the photo caption. It has since been updated.