SHUNGNAK - High school students in Shungnak are taking it outside - to the woods behind the village and up Cosmos Creek - and earning credit this semester for picking up the specialized skills they need to succeed around their home village.
In "Hunting, Trapping and Outdoor Survival," a course pulled straight from the Northwest Arctic Borough School District high school syllabus, teacher Don Boyles' 22 students get lessons from aide Raymond Woods in trapping marten and other local critters, and surviving in the wild.
Taking lessons from the classroom out to the wilderness and back inside again, the class has Shungnak students relating to their school in new ways, and recognizing new connections in their lives in and out of class.
"We are examining how to make a living with the natural resources available to us," Boyles said. "And we are having fun."
Each Thursday afternoon, students can put down their textbooks, put on their parkas and mittens, and head out for a hike or snowmachine ride to learn more about the subsistence lifestyle.
In a school district whose mission is preparing students to live successfully in the Northwest Arctic, survival skills are a must, according to Woods, who assists in the classroom but takes the lead in outdoor lessons.
"If they're going to live here, they need to know this stuff," he said. Shungnak is about 460 miles northwest of Anchorage.
Principal Megan Reinseth recognized a special opportunity for her school to teach the outdoor course this year. And Shungnak is the only NWABSD school currently offering it.
Reinseth said the school already owned the set of traps. In addition, Boyles and Woods, who both are well versed in survival skills, are members of the high school staff.
With help from volunteer snowmachine drivers from the village, high school students who have completed their math homework and remembered to dress warmly earn the chance to practice setting and baiting traps, and learn survival skills through demonstrations from Woods.
While the trips energize students to wrap up any incomplete work in order to stay eligible for the trip, Boyles said the class has plenty of other benefits, as the lessons continue back in the classroom.
Before heading out on the first trip, he taught the Alaska Fish and Game regulations and helped students complete applications for the necessary hunting and trapping licenses.
Earning and managing money are two other skills Woods and Boyles teach, thus incorporating practical math lessons into the class.
The trapping class also is a moneymaking venture - fur from a marten caught on the first trip already has been sold, as have the furs from the next two that the class catches.
Also the class' fundraising potential is especially important with gas prices topping $6 per gallon, and 22 students needing rides on snowmachines.
Boyles said he thinks this class could be successfully taught in any village, and students in Shungnak are glad to be a part of it.
Excitement about their new trapping expertise runs high: After the second outdoor lesson, students Dion Tickett and Peter Douglas picked out a good spot near the village and set traps of their own.
Plans for the rest of the semester include a longer camping trip in the spring, for which students will build on their survival skills by covering long-term preparation and planning.