BSSD’s Inupiaq dictionary

On Wednesday, I boarded a plane in order to head to Unalakleet, site of Bering Strait School District’s headquarters in order to participate in a bilingual training session with a student and our site’s bilingual teacher. Joining us were representatives from 8 of the other schools in the district.

Before I go into detail about the topic at the heart of this post, the native language dictionary that is being created, I want to point out something that I have found since living in the village. (And something that was pointed out to me earlier today during a conversation with my mom.) My students are all bilingual. Except that isn’t really true. My students should all be bilingual. In reality, they have a slightly better grasp on their native language than I do on my old high school french, which is a shame.

This is a recognized problem and one of the big reasons for having a bilingual program in our schools. As teachers, we try to integrate local culture into our lessons, but that isn’t really enough to preserve the way of life. The ability to speak the Inupiaq or Yupik languages that are native to the region is disappearing.

With that in mind, the Inupiaq dictionary project was started and has since expanded to include a Yupik dictionary. The big idea of the project is to get students to go out into the community, identify the native words for different things, take pictures if they can and upload it all, along with a voice recording of the word being pronounced.

Preserving culture, teaching technology skills, life skills and writing skills all while having students contribute authentic work to a valuable resource. That’s what I call motivating and educational.

Nome, AK

A little over a week ago, I got the opportunity to travel to Nome, AK for the district’s Tech Liaison training. It was my first visit to Nome, which is odd since Nome is the largest “city” in the region (population – approx. 3,600). Most of the time was spent in the NACTEC house(Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center), where students from around the region come to learn technical and career skills during the school year and where we set up camp for 2 days in order to learn about the tools we use to keep technology in our schools up and running. I’m not going to write about the training except to mention that it is already making my life easier, instead, I’m going to write about Nome itself.

The first thing to know about Nome is that it is the only “wet” town in the region. Alaska has what is called a “Local Option” law which allows bush villages to decide to what degree alcohol is allowed into the village. Many towns (including Shaktoolik) choose not to allow the possession of alcohol (dry); others like Unalakleet allow the importation of alcohol but not its sale (damp). It doesn’t take long very long after landing in Nome to recognize the effect this has had on the town. Let’s simply say that drunks are not an uncommon sight and leave it at that…

Nome also has a reputation as a mining town and for those of you familiar with active mining towns in very remote locations, you already know what this means. For the rest of you… Nome is dirty. Nome is dingy and one could even call parts of it ramshackle. There’s a feeling of age, but also of haste; mining booms don’t leave much time for planning, zoning laws and strict oversight.

Underlying it all is the history of the town though. Everyone knows about the, Iditarod the annual dogsled race that commemorates the delivery of diphtheria serum from Anchorage via dogsled. Fewer people know that at one point, Nome was the largest town in Alaska; that the US Postal Service refused to allow the town to change it’s name to Anvil City in 1899 or that few of the original gold rush structures have survived numerous fires and violent storms. The history is what draws me to the town, it is what makes me want to visit it again sometime. It isn’t a place I’d like to live, but a place that would be interesting to study and learn about first-hand.

Note to readers: I spent less than 48 hours in Nome, most of that holed up inside a building training. I only spent 3-4 hours exploring the town (and that was spent on Front St.), this is what my viewpoint is based upon and is therefore reflective of a short-term visitor and not someone who lives there.

First snow!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted an update… it’s not that I don’t have things to post – I’ve been up to quite a bit the last two weeks – I just haven’t had time. I’ll follow up with a couple longer posts when things quiet down a little bit (this evening or tomorrow when I return home from Unalakleet). I just wanted to share a picture for now though:

Unalakleet snow

I’m told it’s not snowing 40 miles away in Shaktoolik, just windy and cold, which is apparently what winter looks like there. Until later!