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for Integrating Cup'ik Culture and Curriculum

funded through the United States Department of Education

ESEA – Title VII Special Alternative Instruction

PR / Award # T003E00134

for the Kashunamiut School District


The GUIDEBOOK was coordinated through a contract with the South East Regional Resource Center.

*Developed by Christina Reagle

*With much appreciated input from John Pingayaq and other Kashunamiut
staff and community members of Chevak.


The purpose of Bilingual/Bicultural programs is stated in the Alaska Education Regulations, Chapter 34, 4AC34.101:

"The department believes that providing equal educational opportunity to these children through the establishment of Bilingual/Bicultural programs of education will provide more effective use of both English and the student's language, foster more successful secondary and higher education careers, facilitate the obtaining of employment, tend to bring about an end to the depreciation of local culture elements and values by the schools in solving educational problems, effect a positive student self-image, allow genuine options for all students in choosing a way of life, and facilitate more harmonious relationships between the student's culture and the mainstream of society."

It is important to remember that successful Bilingual/Bicultural Programs are supported by the people of the village, teachers, administration, and the School Board.



as experienced in the Cup'ik culture

In the Cup'ik culture "the drum" has a special significance. It represents the heart beat of a mother and the inner peace that each person seeks in life's journey. The sound of the drum is similar to the rhythm of a mother's heart while in the womb. The beating produces energy that sends blood flowing throughout our bodies creating a desire to dance and be alive. The drum also helps each person to understand the many cycles that life has in store for us.

                                                                 Waqaa Greetings


The Kashunamiut School District believes:


for Integrating Cup'ik Culture and Curriculum

"Special programs, including, but not limited to bilingual/bicultural programs shall be developed and implemented as may be practicable to address the unique educational needs of Native American Students. These programs shall include but not be limited to an awareness and appreciation of the Native student's language, heritage, and culture as well as that of the rest of American society." I.0710.02 The Kashunamiut School District is located in western Alaska, one of five major regions of Alaska. Chevak was one of the last communities to have contact with the outside world. Less than a hundred years ago the residents were nomadic and the culture was purely aboriginal. In the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s there was a trend toward consolidation of communities. The original school in Chevak was built by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the early 50s at the current site.

GUIDEBOOK DEDICATION: School and community of Chevak

PURPOSE: To establish guidelines for the staff of the Kashunamiut School District when integrating Cup'ik culture into the curriculum.


1. To improve the self-image of students in Kashunamiut School District.

2. To teach reading and language arts more effectively.

2.jpg 3. To increase respect, appreciation, and understanding of the Cup'ik culture.

4. To encourage communication linkage between the school and community of Chevak.


What does this mean for the
Kashunamiut School District?

The Cup'ik culture is an important part of the education of each student in the Kashunamiut School District. Creating inviting classrooms and a school environment for students that integrates culture into the academic curriculum helps students to succeed and feel good about themselves. The focus of this GUIDEBOOK is to utilize the Communicative Arts in assisting teachers to think about integrating Cup'ik culture with their lesson planning.


Language Arts: students create a tour guide booklet on the Chevak community or the geographic region.

English: Interview elders, then write summaries of interviews.

Radio Broadcasting: students gather information about culture and announce it over the radio.



Avurtuq he/she is gathering things



A needs assessment administered to parents, students, teachers, and community members in the Kashunamiut School District states that preserving the Cup'ik culture, language, cultural history, and crafts are essential elements when planning curriculum for Kashunamiut students.Studies have shown that students have a better chance of developing a positive, directed sense of self-esteem when schools and communities are linked together. Chevak has developed a tri-language system of communication, Cup'ik, English, and a combination of the two. Students are caught in the middle of this system, challenged by the need to be versed in both languages.

In 1988 the Alaska School Board identified 39 barriers Native students encounter while going to school. These difficulties create inner conflict for students and extra challenges as they attend school and balance the other parts of their lives. The barriers include lack of self-esteem, lack of cultural understanding by educators, lack of appropriate curriculum, lack of opportunity to develop language skills, and the school not reflecting the culture of the community. Before 1950 formal education for students in Chevak took place in the Qaygiq—the men's house, and in the homes of the people. The information taught to students in the Qaygiq included history, values, rules, regulations, and survival methods. Much of this became lost when children entered public schools. Some people in Chevak feel the school is obligated to teach what was lost through this change in the educational process.

Pingnatagyarag—learning to do things yourself, work towards becoming independent


What can be done to help students overcome these barriers?

Through a Title VII, Special Alternative Instruction Program, the Kashunamiut School District has evaluated the school environment and staff interactions. These evaluations have helped to determine ways to enhance the effectiveness of the curriculum and school staff. The purpose of this GUIDEBOOK is to share these ideas with you.

Why integrate the Cup'ik culture and curriculum?

Culture is a difficult concept. It is dynamic and constant. There are many factors that influence culture and how it affects individuals. During the past ten to fifteen years the Cup'ik culture has been impacted heavily by the Western culture. The language is spoken less and fewer students are able to speak cup'ik fluently. Sometimes these changes interfere with students' abilities to do well in school. The Kashunamiut School District applied for a special grant to help students do better in school. This Title VII, Special Alternative Instruction Grant proposed two goals:

  • to teach reading and language arts more effectively
  • to foster the development of a positive self image in students

In reaching these goals the overall strategy has been to utilize a variety of communicative arts while blending the child's history and tradition. Through the implementation of this grant, teachers, students, community members, and administrators have explored different techniques and approaches to making the culture relevant to the curriculum and meaningful to the students.

aipag'luk — let's be friends

Having a strong

personal vision;

seeing our great

potential, is like

an arrow, which

powered by our

will, always hits

its target.


True understanding of traditional values starts with a personal vision of who you are and who you could become. How does self esteem fit into culture and curriculum?

How do we know when a person has high self esteem or a good self image? Self esteem is not an easily measured item that can be included on a report card or resume. Students must have high expectations of what they are capable of doing; they must feel empowered in order to take responsibility for their actions; and they must desire to make choices and take action.


Schools and Communities have a role in helping empower students and strengthen their self esteem. Self esteem is personal self worth. It is gathered from the many different interactions that take place throughout the day, the week, the month, the years. Judgment and values conflict can develop and create problems with students. Low self esteem, a negative self image, makes liking and believing in yourself difficult, if not impossible, and creates a vicious cycle of self doubt.

6.jpgThe Cup'ik culture honors respect of each person. Respect is a part of how people liv and interact with each other. When students feel respected they feel empowered to demonstrate their abilities. Teachers can demonstrate respect by participating in community events. Learn about the activities in the Community Hall, attend a tribal or city council meeting, inquire in a sensitive way about the geography or history of the area, find out why the other people around are Yup'ik and not Cup'ik.

Cup'ik people see self esteem in a different way than Westerners. A person's self image is similar to a piece of driftwood. It is difficult to predict. The Cup'ik philosophy believes in observation, a piece of driftwood may look OK on the outside, but not be good on the inside or vice versa. It takes time to study the wood, to investigate the grain of wood, and determine its usefulness for a project. The same piece of wood might be evaluated differently by the more dominant culture. The Western mind usually evaluates quickly, often with limited information. Judgments can be made and restricted decisions then follow.


How to raise the self esteem of students
Staff of the Kashunamiut School District discussed how to define self esteem. The definitions include feeling good about one's self (confident), knowing how to do a job, having a happy outlook, and looking forward to the future. They also critiqued ways to determine if a person has positive self esteem. Acknowledging self esteem includes leadership skills, demonstrating confidence, not relying on substances or external objects, willingness to try new experiences, a well-kept appearance, positive peer interaction and sincere sportsmanship.

A visit from the elders

The elders in Chevak were invited to the school to share their knowledge of Chevak and of the surrounding region. Their visit provided a way for educators to obtain information about the geography, history, and traditions of the Cup'ik people and to open communication between the community and the school. It is a continuous process with staff turnover and administrative changes that the community continues to feel invited into the school. The Kashunamiut School District is committed to molding the school around the community, not the community around the school.

"Our youth hold the key
to the future of our village."

  • give random tests to reduce test anxiety
  • strive for cultural pride
  • radio spots about self esteem
  • student of the week / month
  • feature students' successes
  • label the school in both English and Cup'ik
  • staff give positive tickets to students
  • culturally relevant topics
  • evaluate students in various ways
  • sponsor honor role



Parents are still the most influential factor in a child's life. Western culture, TV, school, telephones, and travel in and out of Chevak are all important agents of change that impact students, but parents are the most critical. Parents of the students of the Kashunamiut School District want their children to do well in school, graduate, and become people who contribute to the community of Chevak.

Each year the community assists the school district by supporting different events, such as:


assisting with sea week activities in fall

volunteering for school activities (school potlatches, etc.

helping kids with homework

showing interest in students' progress

supporting Cultural Heritage week in spring

attending Parent / Teacher Conferences

assisting with extracurricular activities

supporting students' attendance

contributing suggestions through the Advisory     Committee

supporting fundraising events / activities

teaching cultural activities

supporting bilingual program

helping students attend school



There is a tri-language system in Chevak; English, Cup'ik, and a mixture of the two languages. This system of language is difficult for students, but can be much easier if parents and educators are working together to help students understand the extra challenges involved.

ikayukerenga — help me



"Late" is a western concept.

The Sioux language (Lakhota) has no word for time and, consequently, has no word for late or for waiting.

What about Eskimo languages? Ask members of the community to explain why people come to gatherings at a variety of times. In the western culture, many would be considered late.


Students are influenced and impacted by teachers in a variety of ways. Teachers are often the first people that children interact with other than their family members. In Alaska many of the teachers come from out of the state and have limited information and understanding about rural, Alaskan communities and Alaskan Native groups. Chevak, like many communities in Alaska, is unique and has its own cultural traditions.

In order for teachers to help students reach their highest potential they need to know about the environment their students live in. Despite the fact that teachers are welcomed guests in the small communities they teach in, it is difficult for them to 'reach into the community' to learn about it and become acquainted with the culture their students live in.

Educators looking for resources to help them understand the new culture they are experiencing in Chevak can begin by asking others who have been in the school or surrounding communities. They can also step out into the community themselves and explore the history of Chevak by asking people they see in the store or around town. There is also information in the cultural heritage program, some written in lesson format and other less formal data in the arts and crafts items being created.

8.jpg Creating a partnership between the school and community is challenging. With turnover of school district staff there is the constant element of new people to learn about the community and different learning styles of students. Mutual respect between the school and community sends a valuable message to students. Since the community of Chevak is different than the examples in textbooks it is important that students understand the connection of their culture and the western education they are learning.

maligeyenga — follow me


as shared by the elders
1. A balance between learning from books and learning from life.
  • Help other people.
  • Help with family chores and needs.
  • Early to bed, early to rise.
  • Provide time to see how your life is going.
  • There's always time to play AFTER all your work is done.
  • Pingnatugyaraq: learn to do things yourself.
  • Respect and honor your elders.
  • Always show good behavior.
  • Listen to all advice given to you.
  • Remember what you are taught and told.
  • Respect other people's belongings.
  • Respect the animals you catch for food.
  • Gather knowledge and wisdom from the elders.
  • Never give up in trying to do what you set your mind on.
2. A balance between the present and the past.
3. A balance between planned experiences and the experience of planning.
4. A balance between intellectual and behavioral goals.
5. A balance between traditional school curriculum and the unique needs of Cup'ik students.


Kegginaquq -- mask for Eskimo dancing             


"A person who has been taught the Cup'ik way uses mental skills in analyzing and will make good judgment in emergency situations."


murilkelluten — pay attention!

Whenever possible, educators should integrate concepts from the Cup'ik culture into the school learning activities. These are just a few of the many possibilities.
Classroom Activities
  • Find Alaskan examples—The textbooks are full of pictures that depict cities and communities Kashunamiut students find foreign.
  • Elders—invite elders into classrooms to tell stories and add insight to relate.
  • Village Government—assist students in learning about local village government and how it relates to state, national and foreign governments.
  • Parent Speakers—invite parents as guest speakers on different subjects, ie. city government, medical, etc.


School-wide Activities
  • In-services—a yearly half-day or full-day in-service on Cup'ik culture.
  • Teacher Observations—hire subs or have aides relieve teachers to attend the cultural / language classes.
  • Special Events—i.e. Young Authors Conference, focus on Cultural Heritage with writing activities focused on stories and events from Cultural Heritage Week.
  • Panels—Student Panel–teachers ask students about culture.
                    Elders Panel–teachers ask elders about culture.
  • Chevak Comet News—blend the student newspaper with other groups to create a community newspaper.
  • Cultural Heritage Week—support and assist in conducting Cultural Heritage Week, rotate primary responsibility with other communities.
  • Eskimo Olympics—host Eskimo Games in Chevak and send students to statewide Eskimo Olympics.
  • Tanqik Theatre—a course intended for students interested in developing cultural scripts, video production, and performing on stage.

Cultural Heritage Week

Preservation of Language & Culture



Welcome to Chevak:

Bethel, Hooper Bay, Newtok, Akiachak, Tuluksak, Akiak, St. Mary's, & Good News Bay

What are you going to say to your parents and elders to help you know more about Cup'ik culture?

Out-of-Class Community Activities
  • Radio Broadcasting—utilize the radio broadcasting for Cup'ik language, culture, history, and arts / crafts information done by students.
  • Sea Week—have the 7 – 12 grade students share their experiences with the younger students.
  • Cultural Heritage Week—a three-day event where students come to Chevak from several surrounding communities to share in learning about being Yup'ik and Cup'ik.
  • Adopt a Teacher—different community members or colleagues help new teachers learn about Chevak.
  • Kashunamiut Project:
       K – 6 Field Trip to the sod houses.
       7 – 12 Cultural Enrichment Camp at the sod houses.


engakakaa to recall or remember

Dear Parents and Elders:

I want to remind you that our Cup'ik language and culture is almost gone. Unless we do something about it soon, there will be no Cup'ik language / culture for your grandchildren, or future children. I encourage you to speak the language to us, now, before it's too late. I'd like to tell you a story. When I was in Fairbanks, I had a chance to talk with other students. They talked about their Yup'ik language and asked about my Cup'ik language. We were comparing words that were different, then we came to a word I didn't know. One of the students called me a dumb Cup'ik. I had nothing to say back.

So please start teaching the language to everyone so that no one else will be in the position I was in. I felt very bad not knowing our language, but at least I could understand some words.

A Chevak Student



Kashunamiut staff developed several lesson plans integrating culture into the curriculum. The format used for the lesson plans was: unit, lesson, materials, preparation, objectives, introduction, activities and assessment.

Resources to Explore:





Animals and birds of Chevak – Social Studies, Science, Math, Language Arts


To make a book with pictures and short stories of the animals and birds in the Chevak.

To Create a fur sample board of the animals of the area.

To create a sample board of the environment that the animals and birds live within.


Pictures of birds and animals; Habitat and environment posters

Fur samples; Arts and crafts materials


Collect fur samples; Compile Cup'ik words of animals and birds

Gather books on animals and birds; Gather environment samples


To learn about the animals and birds in the Chevak area, and to identify the furs of the area.


Read a story about Alaska animals, Alaskan Animals ABC, Shelly Gill, and show a video of Alaska animals and birds. Ask children to name common animals and birds around Chevak.


Write stories and draw pictures about animals and birds.

Have the Cup'ik teachers discuss and name animals and birds of tundra around Chevak.

Draw and label Cup'ik names for pictures of animals and birds.

Make an ABC book and/or 1 to 10 number book and illustrate with animals and birds.

Make a classroom mural of animals and birds of Chevak.

Go on a field trip to look for animals and birds.


Students will correctly identify and discuss 2 habitat and/or feeding characteristics of 10 animals.


EVALUATION 1. Which organizational strategies do I use:
  • whole class
  • individual students
  • groups
  • peer partnerships
What is evaluation? Evaluation is a careful observation and collection of information to determine whether a program is effective. Sometimes evaluation can be simple. Are students learning how to spell or how to do math problems? Other times evaluation is more difficult. Are students learning to be productive citizens or how to write an interesting story? Evaluation of school programs is a daily task for teachers. When planning strategies for evaluation it is important to step back from the daily tasks of teaching and examine the program from a variety of viewpoints.
2. Which instructional strategies do I use:
  • cooperative learning
  • group projects
  • independent study
  • other
  • writing process
3. Which instructional skills do I use:
  • brainstorming
  • instructing
  • questioning
  • other
  • informing
  • demonstrating
  • discussing
  • observing
  • explaining
  • responding
  • monitoring
4. Which strategies do I use to assess student learning:
  • written tests
  • performance tasks
  • work samples
  • open-ended questions
  • structured observations
  • cooperative group work
  • oral tests
  • interviews
5. How do the students assess their own learning?
  • tests
  • self evaluation
  • reports
  • cooperative groups
  • journals
6. How does the cultural component fit with the lesson?
7. Do I allow for cultural differences in the presentation and participation of the lesson/unit?
8. Do I invite or seek our community members who could assist with the lesson/unit?
Kasugluku all the way to the end


Integrating culture into the academic curriculum is a challenge. It requires each teacher to incorporate information that they are not familiar with in educating the students in their classroom. The ideas in this GUIDEBOOK will help every student in Chevak to receive a more rewarding and comprehensive education.11.jpg

The activities in this GUIDEBOOK will help teachers seek out new resources in providing education to the students of Chevak. The parents and community members of the Kashunamiut School District will become participating partners in the teaching process, which raises the self esteem of everyone involved.

Bilingual education has taught us that you don't learn a language by learning the language, but you do learn a language by learning ideas and by learning to think in a language. Students can then acquire skills, knowledge, and an attitude that blends culture and the academic school program together. Any learning that takes place becomes an added piece of knowledge.

GOOD LUCK with the risks you take in reaching into the community and seeking new information.


Piuraa ! See you later or good bye

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