New LKSD Teachers Receive Cultural Training

New LKSD Teachers Receive Cultural Training
Posted on 08/19/2022
New staff participate in throw party
‘An open mind and open heart:’ New LKSD educators receive cultural training

Part of the welcome for incoming Lower Kuskokwim School District teachers, principals and assistant principals includes cultural training. The day-long event is held in Bethel before the group of educators later traveled to their villages for the start of the school year. The cultural day event has been going on for more than two decades.

New staff at cultural training “The intent is for new teachers to get to know the different culture they are walking into and to make sure that some things are clear, like communication style, what foods they might be offered, and what activities they might do,” said Atan’ Winkelman, Yugtun Language and Culture teacher at BRHS.

The 2022 cultural day began with welcome remarks from LKSD Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent Kimberly Hankins and Ed Pekar. 

Telling stories from their own journeys in teaching, coaching, and advising at LKSD schools, they both wove in bits of advice for the incoming group. Hankins counseled newcomers to get involved, to learn about the culture, and to be good listeners. Pekar advised the educators to focus on relationships. 

New staff learn about the Yupik alphabet
“A great relationship is about two things. First, find out the similarities. Second, respect the differences,” Pekar said.

The incoming educators are from around the United States and the Philippines. On Aug. 2, they were eager to begin the 2022-23 school year, but glad to have their initial questions answered about Alaska and the cultures of LKSD villages.

Winkelman cited non-verbal communication as one area that tends to confuse new teachers. The group practiced saying yes to Winkelman’s questions with raised eyebrows throughout the remainder of the day, as well as practicing words they might hear like waqaa and quyana. 

“It’s a yin and yang experience I hope they’re having,” Winkelman said. 

She explained how, in many ways, families in LKSD villages are just like those anywhere else - there are family dynamics, arguments, and traditions at play. But in other ways, the cultures are very different than those in the rest of the United States. 

One cultural difference Winkelman cited is how children are taught every day to take care of their friends and to focus on others.

“Our first reaction when we walk into a space is to see who is around and what they are doing and what their needs might be. Whereas in the western ideology, it’s all about the individual,” Winkelman said. “So when our new teachers walk into a space, the focus is on them. ‘Where am I going to sit? Where do I belong in this context?’ So those two approaches are very different in this culture. That’s what I want new teachers to see is that there are similarities in some aspects, and differences.”

New teacher orientation
Aside from broad cultural differences, topics covered throughout the day included village events, non-verbal communication, learning about village resources and subsistence activities from Paul Paul from Kipnuk, learning about family, and making akutaq. 

Winkelman also gave an introduction to the Yugtun language and DLE philosophy. The day ended with a throw party where the group of new educators were given supplies to use in their classrooms and new housing.

Winkelman shared the way she hopes parents and community members welcome the educators to their villages. 

“I want them to have an open mind and open heart to welcome our new teachers,” she said. “Parents need to be mindful that we might have teachers that are afraid to ask questions or engage in community activities.”

When asked what her hope is for the incoming teachers, Winkelman didn’t hesitate to answer. 

“That they stay. That our kids have consistency. That they get married into the community and just stay. We want them to adopt the community as their home.”

Throw party
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