FAIRBANKS - The Yukon-Koyukuk School District held a Christmas concert Wednesday afternoon.
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Children from six Interior village schools took part in the event, with the students singing songs and exchanging holiday greetings. The holiday gathering, however, wasn't a gathering at all, but a virtual fete. The students, separated from each other by hundreds of miles, were connected by high-speed video.
"It's kind of a treat for the district office staff because we're here in Fairbanks, and the kids are all out in the villages, said Susan Paskvan, an Athabascan language teacher with the district and the person who put together the program.
The school district's administrative offices in Fairbanks were linked by video with students at schools in Manley Hot Springs, Nulato, Koyukuk, Huslia, Minto and Kaltag. A large screen in the district's board room here displayed live video of all the students. At the village schools, the students watched on similar screens as one by one the various classrooms performed for each other.
Students in Kaltag sang "Jingle Bells" in Denaakk'e Athabascan. A group of fourth- and fifth-graders in Huslia sang "Amazing Grace" in the Native language.
A group of students in Koyukuk kept the district administrators and their fellow students laughing with a rendition of "The 12 Days Christmas" Koyukuk style. Instead of leaping lords, swans and rings, the students sang about five feet of snow, four martin traps, three sled dogs, two rubber boots and a ptarmigan in a spruce tree.
Superintendent Chris Simon said the video conference technology brings the district together despite the vast distances between schools. By linking virtually, the students are able to develop relationships with other students they otherwise would never meet. In fact, as the students waited for the singing to start Wednesday several of them waved back and forth to each other.
This was the first time the district used the technology for a concert, Simon said, but for the past several years the video network has been used to deliver classes. Using the technology, one teacher can teach students in several different villages at the same time. Paskvan, from Fairbanks, teaches Native language classes using the technology. A number of students from various villages have been taking earth science classes together, taught by a teacher who lives in Wisconsin.
"Our schools are so small we can't have a science teacher in every village," Simon said.
By using the technology, he said, the district is able to hire one expert teacher to serve students in all the schools.
The district plans on expanding the catalog of classes taught by video conference in the coming years. Simon said he would like to see an Alaska history course and specialized math classes.