Kids Learn About STEAM Careers at Wrangell Culture Camp 2021
The atmosphere is lively as we take the walk from the local Tlingit Tribe Cultural Center to Reliance Harbor in Wrangell. Sixth-grader Devin Aleksiev is already wearing his life jacket, which he shows he can put on even if it’s already on.
“It will hurt your wrist a lot if you wear a watch,” Aleksiev said, stopping to take off his watch. He says he loves everything about the culture camp and is happy to be here.
“I just wasn’t happy when I woke up,” he adds wryly.
About 15 middle school students (entering grades six to eight) attend Wrangell Culture Camp 2021. The camp is focused on STEAM – that is, science, technology, engineering, art and math, helping Wrangell children gain cultural knowledge and learn about careers in the community .
“Last year was the first year and we had a virtual summer camp last year, because of COVID,” says Paul Leininger. He is the coordinator of the STEAM project based in Juneau with the Sealaska Heritage Institute. “This year, we wanted to go out and reach all six communities, instead of bringing kids to Juneau during COVID. We thought it would be a great opportunity to send everyone – to send adults to communities and serve children where they are.
For example, SHI runs similar camps in Juneau, Sitka, Hoonah, Angoon, and Klawock, with the help of a federal grant from the Alaska Native Education Program.
“They all have their own local touch,” says Leininger, “They all do something unique. [We’re] really excited to see how everyone can experience their own community and STEAM careers in their community.
The weather is generally fine outside, with a strong breeze. Strange jellyfish-like contraptions made from plastic bottles and nylon stockings float from the hands of a few children. Aleksiev points to one and explains the exercise: “We made plankton nets, and we’re going to catch plankton, and then we’re going to examine them under a microscope. “
Hopefully the jellyfish-like contraptions will concentrate the microscopic aquatic creatures in a small sample bottle. Camp participants will bring this water back to the cultural center, where half a dozen microscopes are ready.
Aleksiev is delighted to have the opportunity to look at something alive under the microscope.
“I already bought a microscope,” he says, “But it sucked. And all it gave me to watch was dandruff. Literally it just gave me dandruff to watch.
On the floatplane dock, Kim Wickman gathers the campers to explain the experience. The children drop the makeshift nets from the wharf and advance in single file, scraping the surface of the water with their stockings.
Wickman is the Indian General Assistance Program Coordinator for the Wrangell Cooperative Association. It is a large-scale job. Today, she is an expert in plankton collection and analysis.
After having paid his trawl fees, eighth grade pupil Phebe Garcia walks away to the wharf side. She says she appreciates the opportunity to explore different careers in science and other outdoor fields, although she doesn’t see herself ending up in field work.
“I don’t really like going out,” Garcia said. “If I get bitten by a bug, I swell, so I like to stay inside. I think it’s fun, however, to learn this stuff. And I think other people [here] want to work outside.
Trying to catch microorganisms in homemade gear is just one of the many activities on the cultural camp program. The children heard presentations from the Forest Service and a local tour operator. They paddled canoes, made their own paddles, listened to traditional songs and stories, and took Tlingit language lessons all week. This ends with an overnight trip to Kaats’litaan, Old Willow Town, the historic site of Wrangell.
Returning to the cultural center, Tlingit bead artist Florence Marks Sheakley sits hunched over a partially complete blue flower pattern the size of a palm tree.
“They want me to make beads,” said Sheakley, stopping his needle. “So that’s what I do with the kids. I teach them to bead.
Sheakley says she has been attending Wrangell Culture Camps for a few years now. Under his watchful eye, children can create their own patterns of small beads.
In another corner of the building, hopefully with water bottles filled with plankton in tow, six children at a time are bending over microscopes, supervised by IGAP coordinator Wickman.
“So you see the little guy moving around here in that kind of corner,” Wickman said, looking into a microscope. “He’s a Tintinnid. And he’s actually zytoplankton, and he’s actually hunting. So he tries to find other little creatures that he can absorb into himself for lunch.
“Oh my God!” someone exclaims at the table.
Eighth-grade student Ben Houser peeks through one eye in his microscope.
“Basically, just a bunch of debris,” Houser says, adjusting the slide to the light of the microscope. “Little plants… I think there’s a bunch of little wavy lines that – everything’s moving because there’s too much water in my slide. “
That’s sort of what he hoped to identify on his microscope slide.
Houser describes his dream slide: “Algae, maybe a shark. We could always wish.
It remains to be seen what Houser will call his favorite cultural camp moment, although realistically it won’t be finding a shark in a water sample in Wrangell Harbor.