December 04, 2005

38. Robotics Club Trip.

This weekend our robotics team went to Bethel and took home first place for programming and design! This is the fourth year I've coached the First Lego League robotics program (my first two years were back in Philly), but it's the first time my team's gotten an award. Way to go Tunt!

Going to Bethel with a school group is always an adventure. Everyone has to wear snow pants so that no one freezes in case the little plane makes an emergency landing. We were supposed to come back Saturday, but ice-fog kept the planes grounded, so that night we went out to for Chinese food. Other than their school trip to Seattle last spring, this was the first time some of the kids had been to a restaurant in years.

We got back today but were delayed a little longer, this time by the cold. It was around -25 F most of the weekend with windchills below -40. It's district policy not to allow school groups on the tiny planes when the windchill is less than -35. I guess snow pants don't work as well when the windchill is less than -35.

October 16, 2005

37. Dried Fish.

This is a picture of Christiana learning how to prepare fish for drying. She was practicing her technique this summer on some of the fish I ended up sending to a few friends. You can see the fish hanging to dry in the background.

Before summer, I found someone nice enough to agree to prepare some extra for me as a favor. When I got back in August, it was ready. I sent it out in early October, explaining what it was and how to eat it in a letter I sent along with it. I haven't heard back from everyone about it yet, but I've gotten some nice responses. I also got to send some of it to a class of Navajo students in New Mexico. This year my class is involved in a few electronic exchanges that spawned from the Bread Loaf program I was in this summer. Electronic exchanges are like pen-pals, but instead of letter writing between individual students, they are writing to the entire other class- responding both to the class as a whole and to individual students. It can last many weeks or just a few and it can get really interesting.

I've never seen kids so excited to write. We have another one set up for next month with an urban class in Ohio, and we're presently also involved in an Alaska-only project with a class of mostly Russian immigrant students in Wasilla (near Anchorage) and Northway (near Canada). Here's a map of the Alaska project. I've been really busy with this... it's taken up a lot of time, but it's been a lot of fun to figure out. That's mostly why I haven't been posting as much these days. Thanks for commenting!

September 18, 2005

36. Fresh Start w/Throw Party.

The school year started off again with a community feast, with more people packing into the gym this year than I saw last. We now have the largest enrolment Tuntutuliak has ever seen- over 130 kids, K-12. About half of the teachers who taught here last year are back again this year and we also have a few more teachers this year than we had last, so there’s a good amount of fresh energy.
Two of our teachers got married over the summer and celebrated with a special take on a traditional Yupik event. They held a ‘throw party’ to which everyone in the village (male and female) was invited. Below is a picture of a traditional throw party I happened upon last fall.A throw party is traditionally celebrated only by the woman and children of the village. It is held when a girl makes her first kill- that is, when she captures an animal for the first time. She climbs to the roof of her house or a nearby building and throws gifts (candy, toys, sundries) to the crowd of woman and children below.

June 29, 2005

34. Bread Loaf in Juneau.

Greetings from Juneau! Welcome to my site!Eagle BeachI started this web log last August when I arrived at Tuntutuliak, Alaska- a tiny Eskimo village in southwest Alaska. My decision to move to Tuntutuliak happened rather abruptly- over the summer, it struck me that four years as an inner-city middle school teacher at a public middle school in Philadelphia was enough... more than enough even. So I looked to Alaska for something different. This website is a collection of my experiences and observations, as a city dweller, of this radically different environment.

Presently, I'm in Juneau attending Bread Loaf School of English through a state grant fellowship- a program designed to improve writing instruction for Native Alaskan youth. After school let out around May 20th, I visited Philadelphia for a few weeks, then headed straight to Juneau for this program. As soon as this is over, I go back to Tuntutuliak for another year of fascinating desolation and meaningful instruction. I'm looking forward to it. Grad school has been a great experience so far- being an adult in a college environment is something to behold. People really seem to leave their hang-ups at the door.Searching for Wildness class tripI'll come back to this at the end of August. Have a good summer!

May 07, 2005

33. More From Culture Week.

Jigging (Ice Fishing)...

Sling-shot workshop...
Basket weaving...
The kids were given saws and exacto-knives to make their sling-shots from scratch. I was given indigestion...

April 29, 2005

32. Culture Week: Rabbit Drive.

Regular afternoon classes this week were canceled to make room for the learning of a slew of skills vital to Yup'k culture. The weeks activities covered a broad spectrum of current traditional practices, including a variety of fine native craft-making techniques and various methods of subsistence living, many different activities occurring simultaneously. All Culture Week instruction was delivered by village residents, who this week became temporary members of the school staff. Certified staff were to serve only as aids to the village resident teachers. I'll post some of the highlights over the next few days.

On Monday and Tuesday afternoons, I headed into the bush for rabbit drives with Robert Enoch and Henry Lupie. A rabbit drive is basically a group of people in line formation trudging through thick brush to corral any and all dwelling rabbits into a previously set net that extends about thirty feet on the far side of the brush.
Above is Mr. Enoch explaining to the kids in Yup'k how it's done.
Here we are heading out to the bush to try to catch some rabbits.
Too bad the rabbits got away. The second day, we took a much longer route and spotted at least one, but we found fox tracks and think we were out foxed. The net had been gnawed through and there was a tuft of fur nearby. Break up is a poor time to go on rabbit drives. Had we gone a week earlier, the snow would have been more firm and thus more easily navigable. Maybe next year.

April 13, 2005

31. Beluga Swims To Philadelphia.

"A beluga whale, whose normal range is defined by the Arctic Circle, has somehow found its way into the Delaware River, making it as far north as Trenton."
            April 13, 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer

March 28, 2005

30. Hunting For Subsistence.

It's hard to overstate how much hunting is a part of life out here. Even though there are places to buy things, subsistence foods comprise half the village diet. Spring is approaching, the sun is setting later and later (9:00 tonight), and it is nearly seal hunting season. People have been talking about seal hunting all year. I got to taste seal a couple of times. It has a strong, sort of iron-rich anise flavor. It's legal for me to eat anything offered, but laws carefully define exactly what seal hunting is and who is allowed to partake. For example, I am allowed to go out on seal hunts, but could
be arrested if I steer the boat. Native hunters frequently take other protected marine mammals,
such as Walrus and Beluga Whale. Pictured at left is Beluga ready to eat. It's very tough and without much taste. On land, moose, caribou, ptarmigan and duck are common game. A few years ago, officers came to the village to issue citations for moose caught out of season, but were denied entry by up to 100 residents who met them where they landed:
            "50 to 100 residents of Tuntutuliak...barred an Alaska Fish and Wildlife Protection officer and two U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees from entering their village. The officers...were told they weren't welcome if they planned to enforce state and federal subsistence hunting regulations..."
            August 22, 2002 Kenai Peninsula Online
A few days later, the issue was defused when an interpreter cleared up some misunderstandings, but it shows how important hunting is. Some kids get to hunt a lot, while others never get the opportunity. We've discussed how valuable of a school activity it would be for the kids who never get to go, but it is impossible obviously because firearms are illegal in schools. For many of these kids, skill with a firearm will be as fundamental to survival as earning a living.

March 08, 2005

29. Tournament Champions.

The Middle School Basketball season came to a close Saturday as the Tuntutuliak Blue Jays earned the title of Midcoast Division Champions.
Four other schools invaded our classrooms, halls and cafeteria Friday for the last games of the season. The first planeload arrived Friday before school let out and the last plane came in just before dark- around eight o'clock. They played phenomenally; it really was fun to watch.
The last game on Friday between Tunt and Kong went into overtime and ended after eleven o'clock with a victory by our own. Above is the traffic of four-wheelers and snow machines leaving the game Friday night. Later that night, one of the people from the village who works at the school gave me a call and invited me over for a steam.

February 26, 2005

28. The Rivers Serve as Highways.

"A truck trail has been plowed in order that tractor trailers can haul freight to Kalskag. Beware of these large vehicles traveling upriver hauling heavy/large loads." email from Bethel, 2/25/05

The world’s waterways hold a vital roll in shaping civilization as we know it. While other means of transportation have become available relatively recently, rural places remain as dependent on rivers today as cities have become on highways. In the winter, our rivers literally turn into highways.

These are from an airplane ride on the way into Bethel last weekend. We stopped by Kongiganak and Kwigillingok (two costal villages) to drop off packages. You can see the frozen-solid Bering Sea in these next two pictures.

While we're up here, another look at Tunt...

February 18, 2005

27. Chicago Trip.

Two of our kids attended the Future Educators of America conference in Chicago last weekend. They won an essay contest for the new Future Teachers of Alaska program.(I was able to chaperone because I'm the only male FTA site coordinator in the district.) I have been to

Chicago before, but I must have forgotten how big that place is... much more of a New York than a Philly. The size impressed me, so you could imagine how the kids must have felt. Placing the whole experience even further over the top, we took a limo between the airport and The Hilton Hotel. (Limo service was cheaper than shuttle service, but still...)

Around 1300 high school students from across the country invaded Chicago for the 11th annual FEA conference. Held at the historic Hilton Downtown, we stayed next to Lake Michigan and walking distance from the Sears Tower. We ate Dinner in the Grand Ballroom the first night; workshops and speakers ensued all weekend. In our small amount of free time, we saw Lake Michigan, visited the top of the Sears Tower, ate at a classic Chicago pizza restaurant and did some shopping. They even figured out that they couldn't figure out why people buy shoes at Footlocker when Payless has the same thing right across the street for half the price.

This is the first year Alaska had representation at the FEA conference. On Saturday afternoon, a boy from our district joined some girls from Nome to deliver a special presentation about Native Alaskan culture and education to all 1300 participants (Nome was the only other group from Alaska at the conference). The presentation ended with a demonstration of Native dance accompanied by a video of Native drummers. After the demonstration, they invited everyone to try it out-

and even come up on stage. The entire conference- 1300 people- was up, dancing and having a great time. For the rest of the weekend, our kids must have felt like movie stars. I like to think that as a result of this trip, someday there will be a thousand more teachers who will be able to tell their students that they were taught how to Eskimo dance by Native Alaskan. I just hope they let their students try it. The image below is a link to a video of the whole ordeal:

February 07, 2005

26. Juneau Trip, Part II.

Both Representative Kapsner and Senator Hoffman were extremely warm and welcoming to our kids. Each invited them into their office and each, respectively spent more than an hour engaging them in conversation. I felt they spoke to our students in a way that showed an intimate understanding of their culture and an appreciation for the hard work they did in order to be there. Representative Kapsner told stories of when she lived in Tunt and even knew that one of our students had shot a moose a few months back. While we were in Senator Hoffman’s office, he pointed out the 1888 map of Alaska he had on his wall.
As you can see from the map, at that time Tuntutuliak was at the center of the most populated region of Alaska. The map shows the way things were just prior to the Great Death- the time when new diseases brought in by explorers and settlers from far away places swept through native Alaskan communities in epidemics that killed the majority of native people. This is something I've heard before, but looking at this map- and knowing that there are only a fraction of those villages still around today- brings it very close to home.

February 06, 2005

25. Juneau Trip, Part I.

The trip to Juneau was nothing short of incredible. We spent most of the week in the Capitol building. Here on the right are a couple of our kids standing by a replica of the Liberty Bell, which

coincidently was next to the front entrance. We actually arrived a day later than expected. The night we were supposed to land in Juneau, the weather prevented it, so we had to over fly and land in Seattle instead. It was pretty late when we got to Seattle, and we had to wait until morning to catch the next plane to Juneau. None of the kids had been outside Alaska before, so instead of waiting at the airport all night, we caught a bus downtown and ate hamburgers under the Space Needle.
The program we were on is called Jr. Alaska Close-Up and is designed to give students a first hand look at the going-ons of states government. It is not a free program by any means- everything from tuition to the cost of travel from Tuntutuliak to Juneau had to be covered by the students through their own fund raising efforts. The students got to spend time with a number of legislators, including their own (Rep. Mary Kapsner and Sen. Lyman Hoffman),

observe live sessions of the House and Senate, sit in on committee meetings, speak with Judges, defense and prosecution attorneys, attend court hearings... really they got to see most of what happens at the Capitol. During the times when they weren't actually in the Capitol building itself, they participated in mock trials and committee hearings, attended lectures from newspaper reporters, legislators and a lobbyist. Somehow, there was also time for a tour of the State museum and the congressional television studio... It was a very busy week. There are two things that happened that were particularly interesting to me: both have to do with our experiences in meeting with the legislators. I'll discuss one in the next post, the other is discussed here.

January 26, 2005

24. Fermented Fish.

In rural Alaska, some lucky newcomers get the privilege of enjoying a special Eskimo culinary delight. Fermented fish is something most people in the lower 48 would never think to try; and that is a shame, because countless people have been enjoying it as a regular part of their diet for millenniums. Fermented fish is prepared by first digging a hole about two feet in the ground. The preparer places a freshly caught fish in the hole, covers it with earth, and lets it stay buried for a couple weeks to a month or longer. After the fish reaches a desired level of fermentation, the preparer unearths it and immediately freezes it until someone is ready to eat it. Fermented fish tastes best raw and frozen. The picture shows part of the fish I recently ate. It makes a very satisfying meal and keeps you feeling full for a long time. Fermented fish is only dangerous if enclosed in plastic during the fermentation process.

January 21, 2005

23. Slaaviq.

Last weekend marked the end of Slaaviq, the weeklong Russian Orthodox winter celebration. Each day for a week, the entire Russian Orthodox community gathers together for many hours in the homes of fellow worshipers.

From what I understand, Slaaviq doesn’t replace Christmas, but it is the biggest time for celebration on the Russian Orthodox calendar. The celebration begins around noon and continues through the morning hours of the next day. Around four or five homes are visited per day. Inside, there is singing, worshiping, eating and gift-giving. The host has plenty of tasty food and treats ready for the guests to eat after singing and worship. While guests indulge, the host (with the help of some of the younger folks) hands out gifts of all kinds to everyone who is present. I was lucky enough to attend the last home visited. The singing was beautiful and completely new to me: uniquely rhythmic with intense harmony. After a bit of singing inside, everyone went outside for a short time to sing at the nearby cemetery, where some of the gravesites were tastefully adorned with holiday lights. After we came back inside, worship commenced in Yupik, followed by amazing food, fellowship and gifts. It was one of the most special forms of worship of which I’ve been a part.

This is the first year in some time that school has been held in the village during Slaaviq. Usually, winter break is extended for another week in place of spring break. A decision was made last year to give this a try, but although enough students made it for each day to count officially, next year school will not be held during this time.

January 09, 2005

22. Back To My Favorite Job.

My roommate was nice enough to shovel the snow off my bed and write this note. It was on the door of my room when I got back. Window latches are more important in Alaska.

I found out about that live materials order I was waiting for back in October when we didn't have mail for a week... it's on it's way finally. Giant hissing cockroaches, tadpoles, fish, snails, butterflies, plants... hope they make it.

I had a nice time at home. My sister had a great party the night I got back, was with friends and family for Christmas and went to NYC for New Year's with Alex. Saw Josh and Sarah's kid, Lowden... he was noticeably older. Went to Chris' party. The best part was giving a talk to the students at Stratford Friends School about my experiences here in Alaska. I've never seen a group of elementary school kids act so polite and thoughtful. I was blown away... Winter break was an energizing time.

It's nice coming back from winter break hearing "Holly cow, you're really tall" instead of "Yo, STRING BEAN!" There's a lot about teaching in the city that I miss, but I was happier to return to work this time around than in the past.


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