Grant Partnership between UAF, SILKAT brings cultural awareness to classrooms

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - A grant partnership made 'by teachers, for teachers' is bringing cultural awareness into classrooms in the Bering Strait School District. SILKAT is a grant partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the Bering Strait School District, and non-profit Kawerak Inc. The Partnership is making waves within, schools, and communities, by giving teachers knowledge about local customs and traditions that are specific to the Western Alaskan culture.

Amy Vinlove, The Director of the School of Education with UAF, spoke about SILKAT's impacts on Alaskan Schools.

"SILKAT is a grant. It stands for Sustaining Indigenous and Local Knowledge, Arts and Teaching. We developed that name pretty specifically, and I often go back to it to keep us grounded in what it is we are trying to do," she said.

SILKAT is intended to be a long term partnership. Coordinators have finished the design phase and are about half way through the nine year grant program. Vinlove says, they are working to improve the competence and confidence of teachers. She spoke about one way SILKAT is being utilized.

"We are going about doing that in a lot of different ways, but one of the primary ways that we are doing that is through a professional development project with the Bering Strait School District, where we are working with teachers to try to develop a set of core practices in arts and place based teaching through participation in a three credit course that is facilitated on site by teacher leaders that we have trained. And that incorporates the use of web-based modules that are related to each of our core practices," she said.

Vinlove says, one of the reasons why they chose to work with the Bering Strait School District was because a large percentage of teachers in that area are not only new to the region, but to Alaska.

"Ultimately our goal is to have more local residents become teachers in Bering Strait Schools, but that's a longer term goal, and in the mean time we wanted to look at what we can do in working with the teachers who are in the district now."

Vinlove says the goal of SILKAT is to have the teachers better understand the culture of the area, the students they teach and to feel better integrated with their peers across the district.

To know more about the Grant Program, you can visit https://sites.google.com/alaska.edu/silkathome/home.