Talented and Gifted Education in Rural Alaska: A Universal Model

June 1991 Masthead

Linda L. Manwill
Lower Kuskokwim School District, Bethel, Alaska

The Lower Kuskokwim School District covers an area of 44,000 square miles and is located in Southwestern Alaska. The school system consists of twenty-six schools; three in the City of Bethel and twenty-three located in outlying villages. All school sites are accessible by air except one. There are no highway systems and the only access to the area is by airplane year round and by boat for four months out of the year.

Of the student population of approximately 2,900 one-third attend schools in Bethel, a city of about 5,000 inhabitants. The student composition is: 75% Yup’ik Eskimo, 20% Caucasian, 5% is Native American Indian/Black/Hispanic/Asian/other. The composition of students in the villages which range in size from two to six hundred is: 95% Yup’ik or Chupik Eskimo and 5% other.

The majority of villagers depends on fishing and hunting (subsistence lifestyle) for survival. This type of lifestyle impacts directly on the education system in a cultural and a practical manner.

Therefore, during the 1988-89 school year the Plan of Service for Talented and Gifted Education was revised to more fully meet the needs of students who live in this area. The essential factor in the redesign was to cross over cultural boundaries and take the bias and horrendous stress which can be a monumental inhibitor to the identification process out of the Plan of Service. The new design is a radical departure from a standardized system typically used to identify those possessing outstanding abilities.

Six ability areas are investigated through the identification criteria. These areas are Intellectual, Academic, Task Commitment, Creativity, Leadership and Artistic or Performing Arts. The Characteristic Checklists (Renzulli, et. al.) were modified in order to reflect the cultural values and language differences by a Revision Committee of primarily Alaskan Natives. They have been previewed in all twenty-six schools within this District and were found to be an effective part of the identification criteria which works as well with the non-Native population as with the Native population. The adopted process for identifying students with outstanding abilities for a Talented and Gifted Program has increased the numbers of students identified for inclusion by fifty (50%).

The document was designed to address cultural/language differences and is meant to be used . . . not stored on a shelf. It is broad based and flexible enough to be inclusive rather than exclusive and is being used as a working reference and model in this district and in school districts throughout Alaska.

Because this is a growing changing document that will accommodate new aspects of culture as they are manifested, indications are that, with slight modifications, this model can be used for identification for programming which will reflect cultural variance anywhere in the world.

I am very pleased that the plan has been so well received. Anyone interested in finding out more should write or call:
Linda L. Manwill, Talented and Gifted Education Coordinator
Lower Kuskokwim School District
P.O. Box 305
Bethel, Alaska 99559
(907) 543-4871


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