“Differentiating Instruction in Rural Alaska,” a professional development program, was presented by Franny McAleer, instructor in Professional Studies in Education, from January 9–15, 2012.
After working with Brett Scott, the principal and curriculum leader, McAleer developed a three-day workshop series for the teachers at Chief Ivan Blunka School, located in New Stuyahok, Alaska, in the Southwest Region School District.
A federally recognized tribe is located in the community. The population of the community consists of 96 percent Alaska Native or part Native. New Stuyahok is a southern Yup'ik Eskimo village with Russian Orthodox influences. Residents practice a fishing and subsistence lifestyle. Skiffs, ATVs, and snowmachines are prevalent forms of local transportation.
The village of 471 people is proud of their new school where 150 students attend the PK-12 program. The faculty flies to the village on bush planes, lives in school-provided apartments, and lives and teaches in the harshest of climates. Because most of them love the way of life in the Alaskan tundra, there is a community of outdoor people who are engaged in this way of life. On Saturday morning, Franny awakened to the sound of the teachers starting—or trying to start—their snowmobiles. Off they went!
Franny enjoyed cross country skiing and snowmobiling after school in -20 degree weather. Fresh produce is rare. Fishing for salmon provides food, logging provides heat, and the river supplies water. The airport is a plowed strip of land on the hill top. No gas stations, McDonald's, convenient stores, doctors, or other things we routinely have in Pennsylvania.
The workshops provided the beginning of a journey to understand the principles and strategies of differentiating instruction and how they impact learning in this village. As choice becomes the practice in the school, all students are matched with tasks compatible with their individual learning profiles, interests, culture, and readiness. The teachers are using the strategies presented as they build their unique community of learners.