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SHI Sends 1,300 Learning Kits to Six Communities

Dec 22, 2020 | Alaska Native, Education, News, Nonprofits

Eighth grade student Blaise Trombetti from Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School examines his kit.

Dixie Hutchinson | Sealaska Heritage

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has sent 1,300 learning kits to middle school students in six communities enrolled in its Opening the Box: STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) education program.

The boxes, known as “Maker Kits,” were delivered to middle schools in Angoon, Sitka, Hoonah, Wrangell, Klawock, and Juneau. They are meant to help children learn basic fundamentals of science, technology, engineering, arts, and math in a hands-on, engaging way that incorporates Indigenous stories, Northwest Coast art, cultures, and languages.

Prior to COVID-19, SHI had planned to sponsor community events, but to ensure everyone’s safety, staff shifted gears and instead created the kits, which are being distributed through schools.

These were the first of the kits to go out under the program, and participants will continue to receive them during the pandemic.

The goals of the program, which is serving more than 1,000 children, is to build confidence in students’ skills, teach about Native cultures, and positively affect their academic motivation.

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“This hands-on approach encourages students to become more curious and to explore and create things. They are learning through experience instead of rote memorization and worksheets,” says SHI President Rosita Worl, adding students are also encouraged to examine how things are made and to think about how those designs could be improved.

The beauty of the kits is that students receive all of the tools they need to learn and they are not reliant on the Internet to complete the projects, though it includes QR codes that link to video tutorials, stories, and other materials for students who want to delve deeper.

Each kit will include an illustration of one of four core cultural values of Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people.

The first kit is designed around the core value Wooch Yáx̱: Social and Spiritual Balance (Haida: Gu dlúu; Tsimshian: Ama Gyoo Xsoo). Wooch Yáx̱ encourages people to live in harmony with others and to be honest. The value includes the concepts of Kaa yaa awuné or Respect for Others and Át yaa awuné or Respect for All Things.

SHI staff packing kits for delivery.

Rebecca Soza | Sealaska Heritage

Students unfamiliar with this value are introduced to it through a traditional story, Shanyaak’utlaax̱ (Salmon Boy), in Tlingit and in English, and through activities including thinking routines, journal prompts and outdoor learning.

Each kit also includes detailed instructions and supplies to complete a hands-on activity. The first box includes tools, such as thread, fabric, a measuring tape and spray bottle, and tutorials on how to make masks to protect against COVID-19. It also includes a “citizen science” activity and a vaccine infographic.

Each kit in the series will build on the previous mail out, and all four boxes in which the kits are mailed will be used in a final design challenge.

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