December 21, 2021

Passages Alaska: A new educational curriculum inspired by ALAXSXA | ALASKA

The team making their way through the -19 degree weather by snowmobile.

PCC Artist-Scholars were on the ground in Alaska in December 2021

One of the exciting educational ventures Ping Chong and Company undertook in the past year was the development of a brand-new 9th grade social studies curriculum entitled Passages Alaska, rooted in our interdisciplinary theatrical production of ALAXSXA | ALASKA. This curriculum explores the stories, histories, cultures, and contemporary identities of Alaska, and integrates with interdisciplinary arts activities.

Created in partnership with the Lower Kuskokwim School District in Bethel, Alaska, the course has been piloted in November and December 2021 by educators and students in three 9th grade classrooms in Bethel as well as two remote village schools in Napaskiak and Tuntutuliak.

Gary Beaver, a traditional Yup’ik dancer and teaching artist, leads a workshop with participating students.

The nine-week course fulfills Alaska History content standards, Alaska Arts Standards, and Alaska Cultural Standards through an arts-based approach. Each unit features video excerpts from ALAXSXA | ALASKA, provided as part of curriculum materials, and the course invites learners to explore their own personal stories, and the stories of their families and communities, in response to cultural and academic content, ultimately creating artistic expressions that acknowledge and celebrate their lived experiences as integral parts of Alaska history. The journey of the course culminates with a viewing of the full production of ALAXSXA | ALASKA, followed by dialogue and reflection. The curriculum is also linked to, a web archive of real contemporary Alaska stories created by Ryan Conarro and Ping Chong.

In December 2021, members of our curriculum development team and the cast/creators of ALAXSXA | ALASKA were on the ground (in -19 degree weather!) for a curriculum revision retreat, gathering feedback from participating educators and students, and working together to revise and refine the curriculum for future wider use in Alaskan high schools. One partner teacher shared that "The connections this course makes to modern-day concerns in Alaska are really strong…and the art projects demand deeper critical thinking of our students. The course has already changed how I teach history!”

The PCC curriculum team take a snowy selfie with LKSD’s social worker Jessica, who accompanied the team to classroom workshops. (Pictured from left to right: Gary Beaver, Nita Rearden, LKSD social worker Jessica, Justin Perkins, and Ryan Conarro)

Throughout the week, our team has been visiting each participating pilot classroom to meet students and teachers, and to help students workshop their final course projects. In addition, a recording of our production of ALAXSXA | ALASKA was screened for school and public audiences on Wednesday and Thursday nights, followed by vigorous Q&A sessions with the cast and creative team members. Ping Chong and Company is grateful for the opportunity to engage in such meaningful community-based education work at the intersection of place, partnership, and pedagogy.

Passages Alaska was created in partnership with the Lower Kuskokwim School District by Ping Chong and Company artist-scholars Ryan Conarro, Asia Freeman, Nita Yurrliq Rearden, and Jennifer Tungatuq Romer, with review by Gary Upaayuilnguq Beaver, Christina Bixland, Nadia Kim, and Justin Perkins.

The plane that our team took to meet the students in Napaskiak!