Three years in the making, Anchorage School District launches new third grade Alaska Studies curriculum

The Nest Egg is the Anchorage School District’s newest curriculum for third graders that was developed with Alaska Native cultural experts. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Third graders across in the Anchorage School District have a brand new social studies curriculum. It’s a comprehensive look at Alaska Native history and culture.

The district said it’s a first-of-its-kind collaboration with Alaska Native stakeholders and cultural experts.

The book at the heart of the new curriculum is called, “The Nest Egg.” It features a third grade class that time travels to different points in history to learn about Alaska’s first peoples.

Kaia Moore, who’s nine and is headed into fourth grade, was part of the group of students who piloted the curriculum and gave feedback on the book.

“There is a classroom and inside the classroom, there is an egg that the kids go into, and they travel to the past. And they figure out what happened in the past and how they survived,” said Moore.

Kerri Wood (left) stands with her granddaughter Kaia Moore, 9, (right). Wood helped develop the new curriculum and Moore was part of the class of students that piloted the curriculum. “It is super important because what we had before, the curriculum there was subpar. And knowing now that we’ve taken the time, and gathered the experts, really, it’s important to us,” said Wood. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Each unit represents a different region of Alaska and the Indigenous people from those regions.

“For instance, in one unit, they may be traveling back to the 1700s. Whereas in Unit Six, the Iñupiaq unit, they’re traveling back to the 1950s,” said Jennifer Romer, the district’s K-12 social studies curriculum coordinator. Romer spearheaded the effort.

The curriculum also highlights factual and biographical information featuring people like subsistence rights advocate Katie John.

After each lesson, students will engage in activities and lessons that expand on what they’ve learned. Romer said it was critical that the curriculum be project based, engaging, and rigorous.

ASD K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Romer speaks at The Nest Egg celebratory event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center on June 7, 2021. “Sometimes you felt tired, because it’s a lot of work. But at the same time, you always kept your eye on the prize, because we knew this is such groundbreaking work,” Romer said of the new curriculum. (Louis Velasco/Anchorage School District)

The district worked on the project for three years, editing the book 13 different times before publishing.

It was a massive collaboration with Alaska Native cultural consultants, experts, artists, translators, teachers and students.

It’s the first time that the district has co-created curriculum with the Alaska Native community.

Romer, who is Indigenous from three different Alaska Native communities, said it fills a significant gap in education.

“The only place where I really saw teaching about Indigenous culture was when I lived out in Bethel,” Romer said. “But prior to that, in the urban areas, I rarely was able to be in a classroom setting where I learned about my own culture and saw my own people.”

At a celebratory event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center unveiling the curriculum, the room was full of emotion, reflecting the passion for the project. Romer called it “groundbreaking.”

Ashlyn Augustine performs a dance, assisted by Andrew, at the Alaska Native Heritage Center on June 7, 2021 (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Kaia’s grandmother, Kerri Wood, is from the villages of Montana Creek and Chickaloon. Wood helped develop the curriculum. She said it was important to her that kids learn about the difficult parts of Indigenous history.

“My grandmother happened to be one of the first kids that got sent away to boarding school, she was the oldest girl in the family,” said Wood. “So the atrocities that happened to those students in the boarding schools happened to my grandma. And we don’t want that ever to happen again. This is one way we can help that by teaching our younger generation — though there were bad things that happen, we survived them.”

Wood is excited about how the project came together.

“I think it really helps our people, all Indigenous peoples in Alaska. It helps them take pride in who they are and where they come from.”

More than anything, everyone involved views the curriculum as a seed they hope will grow, expand and influence other district efforts in the future.

ASD Superintendent Deena Bishop said the state Legislature made Alaska history a graduation requirement, but the available curriculum was incomplete.

“What was missing was actually good curriculum that really had the knowledge and the culture of Alaska, and expertise,” Bishop said. “It isn’t only history. It’s actually present-day knowledge as well, to really sustain the culture in Anchorage, as well as around the state.”

Alaska Native Heritage Center Executive Director Emily Edenshaw speaks at an event celebrating the new ASD curriculum, The Nest Egg, on June 7, 2021. “I had tears in my eyes, because for the first time seeing in the book, reading sentences that said Alaska Natives were the first peoples of this land — that hit me right to my core. Because a lot of the work that we’re doing here at the Heritage Center, we consistently meet people who say otherwise,” said Edenshaw. (Louis Velasco/Anchorage School District)

The year-long curriculum will be taught to all ASD third graders and translated for use in each of the district’s seven foreign language immersion programs.

The district plans to copyright the curriculum to sell to other districts, with the hope that proceeds from the book will support field trips for students to the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

And the work isn’t stopping at the third-grade level. The district’s social studies department is also looking at revamping the ninth grade curriculum too.

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