The remote location and diverse student body create unique challenges for Bering Strait School. "Although we're geographically about the size of Minnesota, the population is sparse," explains Educational Technology Coordinator John Concilus. "Our student population is 99 percent native, representing the Upaiq, Yupik, and Siberian Yupik Eskimo cultures."
Meeting federal and state requirements while at the same time recognizing the cultural distinctiveness of the student body requires a unique educational philosophy. "Our programs are standards–based rather than standards–referenced," John continues. "We don't use traditional A–B–C–D grading, and our students are not classified by grade levels. Rather, we assess student progress through a rubric–based system, classifying them as Advanced or Proficient or Developing. We also don't have traditional subjects—instead, our students are taught in various 'Content Areas', some of which may be traditional and some of which may focus on non–traditional topics."
While these unconventional strategies are effective, the district must also adhere to state and federal requirements mandating tracking and testing students using traditional grade–level systems. And it must also follow established guidelines for reporting on its compliance with Special Education requirements, and monitoring student progress on IEP objectives.