Local students asking: Why do we live here?

This semester, 13 high school students will work to answer the question: Why do we live here?


The students are part of a new course this year being offered in cooperation with Goldbelt Heritage Foundation and the University of Alaska Southeast School of Education. The class, titled “Investigating Traditional Ecological Knowledge,” is open to all high school students in the Juneau School District and the focus “is to apply the strengths of the local community to promote cultural awareness and science literacy through place-based education,” according to a release from the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation. There are currently 13 students enrolled for university and high school credit.

The spring course was created as an extension of Goldbelt Heritage Foundation’s “Aan Yátx’u Sáani Deíyí: Path to Excellence” summer academies. Each summer, through the Path to Excellence Academy, 40 students have the chance to earn three university credits and a ½ high school credit as they study math and science through the context of local culture, according to the release. With the intent to offer academic and cultural support throughout the school year to all students, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation proposed the three university credit spring class.

“The course encourages students to take into consideration the dynamic landscape of Southeast Alaska as they develop an understanding of the interconnectedness of nature, respect for life, western science methodology, Tlingit migration and language, and social roles and responsibilities,” the release said. “The intention is to pay tribute to the legacy of the Kwaans of our Southeast region and to allow students to discover the holistic thought processes that helped people thrive in Southeast Alaska.”

According to GHF, Students are working closely with Tlingit elders and knowledge bearers for this class including Percy and Edward Jr. Kunz, Helen Watkins, David Katzeek, Paul Marks, Fred White, Liana Wallace, Edward Hotch, Victoria Johnson, John Smith, and Marsha Hotch. Additional contributors to the class are Discovery Southeast Naturalists Richard Carstensen, Steve Merli and Rick Bellagh. University faculty includes Eran Hood, Daniel Monteith and Frank Coenraad. The class has also created collaborations with Juneau School District teachers Henry Hopkins of Juneau-Douglas High School, Kathleen Galau of Thunder Mountain High School, Paul Berg, Brita Steinberger and Steve Hill of Yakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School, Barbara Cadiente-Nelson, and local habitat biologist Cathy Pohl.

Content of the class focuses on the traditional educational model of what students can learn, rather than what a teacher can teach. Through the navigation of complex oral narratives, collegiate-level lectures, geographical information systems technology and field experiences, students have been exposed to a variety of “ways of knowing” in Southeast Alaska.

The release from GHF stated the course adheres to national and state standards for science as well as culturally-responsive school criteria. For instance, students will demonstrate their ability to incorporate physical science, biology, culture and society by completing a course-long group project of selecting and presenting the potential locations of year-round village sites.

One example of class investigation includes how the students examined the ingenuity and complexity of Tlingit technology through canoe design, as well as the expressions of science through oral narratives that allow future generations to receive ancient knowledge. The lesson drew parallels between modern examples of rockers, forward flotation devices, wave blocking devices and bulbous bows to study Tlingit mastery of displacement, density, work efficiency, navigation and relationships with Aleuts and other people.

The class demonstrates an ongoing collaborative effort between the UAS School of Education and GHF. Students will display their final presentations for the class at UAS. In addition, students will continue to be involved with the School of Education in July, during the UAS workshop on place-based education, “A Pedagogy of Place” that will further extend opportunities for teachers to integrate science, math, art and culture into their classrooms.

In addition to the co-sponsored course, GHF continues to offer curriculum resource development and professional development opportunities for teachers to access local resources and expertise.

The dates for this summer’s Path to Excellence Academy will be June 23-July 3 and will be held at UAS. The application and additional information will be posted at www.goldbeltheritage.org/cultural-events.

Goldbelt Heritage Foundation is able to co-sponsor this course through a Demonstration Grant Award “Path to Excellence” from the Office of Indian Education, in partnership with the University of Alaska Southeast School of Education.


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