Education Week - June 13, 2018 - 8
Gifted Children 'Make the Most' of Schooling in Alaska
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extreme case because of its remoteness.
"Finding gifted kids in rural
schools is difficult because personnel, and trained personnel, is limited," she said. "In a rural school of
100 elementary students, you'd only
have maybe five gifted kids, maybe
one for every grade level. The opportunity for a teacher to create a
whole enriched curriculum for one
child becomes limited."
Callahan said Aric is lucky in
one respect: His academic ability,
at least, was identified. Identifying
gifted students in rural communities in the first place, she said, can
be just as challenging as providing
advanced content to that student
when resources of all kinds are low.
Aric, who graduated from high
school last month, has been living
in Glennallen nearly his entire life
and has attended Glennallen School
since kindergarten. The K-12 school
serves 286 students in all.
This year, the graduating class
Photos by Young Kim for Education Week
TOP LEFT: Aric Cox will spend
the rest of the summer in
Glennallen, continuing to take
on challenging volunteer
projects at the Copper River
Community Library and the
Cross Road Clinic. This fall,
Cox plans to attend Grove City
College in Pennsylvania,
where he will study computer
And Glennallen School is the
largest of the three schools in the
Copper River school district, which
serves fewer than 450 students in
an area nearly the size of Ohio.
"I feel like larger schools would
offer more variety of opportunities,
but at the same time, in classes
here, you get to know your teachers more," Aric said. "In a bigger
school, I don't know if that would
have been possible."
That sentiment is shared by his
school's principal, Nick Schumacher,
who said the small class sizes allow
for more one-on-one attention.
"I feel like in smaller communities, you have to sort of take more
initiative and go look for the opportunities," Aric said.
On his own search for opportunities, Aric discovered a passion for
computer technology and helping
people. He has been volunteering
at the community library for the
past seven years, where he sets up
computers, puts books away, checks
books in and out, and signs residents up for library cards, among
After the local job center closed,
Aric began working on a project to
create a job-search database on one
of the library's computers. He also
served as a student intern at Cross
Road Clinic, the main medical facility in Glennallen where his parents
both work. There, he installed TVs
and a teleconference center, and
helped with general informationtechnology work.
Aric burned through his school's
most challenging courses well before
he was ready to graduate. Then he
took online classes and video-teleconference classes to supplement
the courses the district couldn't
offer him. Those classes were often
based out of Prince William Sound
College, which has an office in Glennallen, schools in Anchorage, and
an online school on the U.S. East
Coast, called the Potter's School.
That ability to take online courses
means Cox has been luckier than
many of his peers in other parts of
"The internet has been a boon in
many, many cases because kids like
Aric have access to it," Callahan
said. "Some schools don't even have
Downside of Online Classes
But it's also not been an ideal option, Aric noted.
"I've tried to take classes from
teachers in school if I can, but if
not, I would look at the online options and pick what was best," he
said. "[Online classes are] very impersonal. You get the content still,
but you have to decide what you're
going to do with it. You don't have a
teacher to guide you along."
Callahan agreed that the e-learning structure can be isolating for
"You're one student online, you're
not in a community. Nationally, it's a
problem and it's something we've been
8 | EDUCATION WEEK | June 13, 2018 | www.edweek.org
dealing with by trying to get more
gifted students identified," she said.
The Copper River district is a
member of the League of Innovative
Schools, a nationwide coalition of
more than 93 schools that focus on
building opportunities for students
through technology. Copper River
and the Sitka school system are the
only two Alaskan districts in the
league. This coalition recognizes the
districts for their use of a video-teleconferencing system that allows students to remotely take classes that
are being offered at other schools in
"If a teacher in our Kenny Lake
School, which is 45 miles down the
road, is offering a class in, let's say,
oceanography, a student in Glennallen that wants to take it can have
access to it," Copper River schools
Superintendent Tamara Van Wyhe
The Copper River district offers elearning options for gifted students
like Cox through various partnerships with online education portals.
In all, Van Wyhe said, the district
is able to offer more 300 e-learning
classes. Copper River students can
also receive college credits and dual
credit through a partnership with
Prince William Sound College.
Moreover, independent study is
an option for students who want to
study something the district can't
That benefited Aric when he found
an Advanced Placement Calculus
class at an online school that wasn't
partnered with Copper River. His
district offered financial support
for the class, as well as a teacher to
proctor the exam.
While the internet has helped
make finding advanced classes for
students like Cox less of a challenge,
recruiting teachers who are skilled
at meeting the needs of gifted students-and well-qualified educators
in general-has become increasingly more difficult, Van Wyhe said.
"Ten years ago or more, it was
pretty easy because all we had to
say was, 'Hey, we're on the road
system.' People wanted to come
The Glennallen School enrolls
286 students in grades K-12.
It's in a school district that
serves fewer than 450
students across an area about
the size of the state of Ohio.
A shelf at the community
library where Aric volunteers
holds his book
recommendations for the
here, but the pool of candidates
has been declining so dramatically
over the last five years," Van Wyhe
said. "There are not as many people interested in working in rural
Alaska, so our road system draw
isn't quite what it used to be."
Van Wyhe said it can be difficult
for teachers to commit to wear all
the hats required in a rural district.
"If you're a high school English
teacher, you're not going to come
to a rural district and just teach
high school English. You're going
to teach English and social studies,
and you might have a science class,
and you might be asked to teach
an art class, and you might coach
cross-country, and be the adviser
for student council and National
Honor Society and a hundred other
things," Van Wyhe said.
Van Wyhe was a teacher in and
around Anchorage for a couple of
years before teaching in Copper
River. While a small district in
rural Alaska has its challenges,
Van Wyhe said it's the social and
emotional benefits that have kept
her there for more than 21 years.