Last month, Kotlik school teacher Emily Poole started a Gofundme campaign when three of her students qualified for the Statewide Yup’ik Spelling Bee in Anchorage.
”We weren’t expecting to do as well as we did,” says Poole, “but our students, really, this is important to them.
Poole has been teaching 7th and 8th grade in Kotlik for the past 15 years and this was the first time she’d entered her class in the Spelling Bee.
“I didn’t really give my students a choice about whether to participate or not,” says Poole. “I just made it part of our curriculum and said ‘we’re gonna do this,’ and then next year it’ll be more of an extracurricular thing that is more open.”
Poole found out about the program last year from the spelling bee's founder and organizer, Freda Dan. A few emails later, she had materials that she needed to show her class how to spell Yup'ik words. That, a Yup'ik language and culture class, and regular practice sessions, was all it took.
“This is a part of their culture, and we’ve talked a lot in my class about how language is culture,” says Poole. “Valuing your language, and understanding your language, and having that attachment to the thought process that goes with a language, and how that keeps the culture alive. So, it’s really important to them and I think they really connected with it.”
Spelling Bee organizer Freda Dan is impressed by the students in Kotlik.
“This year it’s really incredible to have Emily [Poole] come in with such strong spellers also,” says Dan. “It’s amazing that she’s been able to cover so many things in such a short time.”
Luci Prince is one of Poole’s students competing at the Statewide Spelling Bee. Since the school district finals, Prince has been practicing at home about twenty minutes a day with her parents.
“Look over the Yup’ik words,” says Prince, “and ask someone to say them for me so I can spell them.”
One of the words she’s been practicing is dog.
“Dog… Qimugta,” says Prince.
Getting students qualified for the Yup'ik Spelling Bee was just the first challenge for Kotlik. The cost of hotels and flying to Anchorage went beyond what students could raise locally, but crowd-sourcing not only worked, but provided a bit more than the $4,000 they thought they would need. They now have a bit of a cushion.
“Just on the Gofundme,” says Poole, “we have almost the entire costs covered. And the kids have raised over $1,000 through their fundraising efforts at school: just selling ice cream, sponsoring an open gym, and we’ve sponsored a couple other activities.”
With the extra cash, students already have plans to do a little splurging in between practicing for the spelling bee.
“Well, during our free time we’re planning to go swimming, and go to the movies, and go eat out at a restaurant," says Prince.
The Statewide Yup’ik Spelling Bee takes place Saturday at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.