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.