Rural exchange enlightens students

Bush and urban kids explore each others' differences, similarities

Posted: Monday, April 23, 2007

Five seventh-graders from Napakiak finished a week of urban life with a potluck at the Floyd Dryden Middle School Friday night. More than just a meal, the spread of fried chicken symbolized one of the Bush students' unanimously favorite things about Juneau, fast food.

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Traveling as part of the annual Rose Urban Rural Exchange, five students from Napakiak and five from Dryden spent part of the semester with lesson plans covering the culture, land, and society in each other's school districts.

Brian Nick, a seventh grader from Napakiak's William Miller Memorial School, said he loved bowling and going to see the glacier - both were foreign to his village life. Most of all, Nick liked McDonalds and Bullwinkle's Pizza.

"Pizza, pizza, pizza," he said.

Exploring each others' lifestyles and differences, the students learned of their sister-school's distinct Alaskan culture. Dryden students learned that houses are built on stilts in Napakiak in comparison to Juneau's more traditional foundations. Stilts better fit the Kuskokwim River floodplain the village is built on.

Rebecca Ferrell, Dryden teacher and potluck host, said one student noticed that neither culture used bricks in construction. They determined the reason must be the transportation cost of brick versus an abundant supply of local timber.

Through the exchange, students learned of differences in health care, transportation, and education. Dryden students understand that in the Bush, clinics are without doctors, and that the Kuskokwim River turns into a frozen road for cars each winter.

"The Napakiak students were surprised to learn that no one can drive to Juneau," Ferrell said.

If Nick could take any program back to Napakiak, he said he would pick French or Spanish language classes. The single elective available in his village is traditional Yupik language.

KC Bodily, a Napakiak teacher traveling with his students, said though a school like Dryden has more opportunity for kids to do what interests them, particularly with languages and music, the education is basically the same in two ways.

"I hold these kids to the same standard as any school, and all parents want the best for their kids," Bodily said.

With nine rooms for all grade levels and 115 students, school in Napakiak is small. Science lessons in the Bush are taught over videoconference.

"It's hard for students to learn with that," Bodily said.

Della Cheney of Juneau's Native Studies Program asked Clarence Rickteroff, a Napakiak seventh grader, to receive a robe from the local clans of Raven and Eagles. During a traditional dance, Cheney asked Rickteroff to take the robe back to share with his school.

"It's so they know who we are," Cheney said. The robe carried the Raven and Eagle in a lovebird configuration. Rickteroff donned the robe and joined the dance.

Through the exchange, Bush kids and city kids also found their similarities, Ferrell said. With satellite television reaching the Bush, Ferrell said both schools share styles of dress and music.

"Our kids didn't expect them to have iPods and video," Ferrell said.

Another similarity kept the sister schools engaged throughout the week in running competition on the basketball court. At a lock-in Friday night sponsored by the school, Napakiak and Dryden students had one last game planned.

Part of the annual exchange is the understanding that Bush kids will shop in Juneau's stores, taking home clothing and shoes for family in the village. Rickteroff takes a gift for his entire school. Robert Nick takes jewelry for his girlfriend.

Bodily, however, said he is taking something less material back to Napakiak. He takes home an immense pride in his students.

"They showed Juneau just how awesome Bush kids can be," he said.

• Greg Skinner can be reached at

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