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Global teacher exchange; North Slope of AK

What do teacher from Scotland and Alaska have in Common? Turns out a lot. Learn more about the Polar Pairs Teacher Exchange in Alaska in fall 2011.
Teachers posing in a class room

More than 4,000 miles from Scotland and the six teachers from Aberdeenshire felt right at home.

"It's amazing how similar the curriculums are,” said Leah Davidson, a primary 6 teacher at Alford Primary School, 25 miles from Aberdeen.

Davidson is one of the teachers taking part in the Shell sponsored Polar Pairs Teacher Exchange directed by Living Earth Foundation, one of Shell’s partners.  Living Earth is based in the UK and organizes the exchange twice yearly.  In the fall teachers from Scotland come to Alaska and in the spring teachers from Alaska travel to Scotland.  The idea is to connect teachers working in two places impacted significantly by oil and gas development.

The first half of the week was spent at Trapper School in Nuiqsut, and the second half of the week in Barrow and Anchorage.

"At the core of the exchange program is an enduring focus on providing direct benefit for students," said Laura Whitby, LEF’s Program Director.

Greig Summers, who teaches teens at Torry Academy in Aberdeen, said he realized it doesn’t matter if you’re on the coast of Scotland or the Coast of Alaska, teachers are facing a lot of the same issues.

"Look at technology, the constant texting and email," said Summers.

Part of the exchange connects students in Alaska to students in Scotland through email, letters and even video.

"We want students to understand they live in a global world," said Summers.

Joe Blair, also from Scotland, said the Inupiat culture and the Scottish culture are trying to do a lot of the same things, like language preservation.

"Scotland is starting to bring Gaelic back into the schools through immersion programs," said Blair.

Blair explained in her district they have created something called the Curriculum for Excellence, which she says mirrors The North Slope Borough School District's new Inupiaq Learning Framework, which places the Inupiat culture at the center of the curriculum.

Whitby says vocational education is another vital component of the exchange, specifically teaching programs that offer learning opportunities beyond the confines of traditional academia.  "It re-emerging as a fresh emphasis with every exchange visit," said Whitby.

For instance, Nuiqsut is closely tied with the Alpine oil field.  Al Strack, the principal at Trapper School, is very proactive about taking every opportunity for gleaning benefit for his students, and is therefore engaged in a range of interesting vocational programs, both with the local Kuukpik Corporation, and with ConocoPhillips.

These include site visits, traineeships, internships and apprenticeships. His personal experience and knowledge was shared during the exchange.  The teachers from Scotland even visited the King Career Center in Anchorage, one of Strack’s partners.

The 4 day visit certainly kick started everything on a very positive note and has provided everyone a great base to build upon,” said Strack.

It was clear from the excitement in the teachers’ eyes, that the exchange left them feeling refreshed and inspired to continue to important work of educating young students. Jo Blair summed it up best.

“This was not just a trip to Alaska, it was a really, really valuable educational experience!”

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