Weitchpec Magnet School Merges Science and Tradition

Students at Weitchpec Yurok Magnet Elementary School got some hands-on training with portable Global Positioning System (GPS) units with guidance from Shaonna Chase, Rachel Rodriquez, and Elly Supahan from the Yurok Tribe’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program. / Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Technicians from the Yurok Tribe’s Geographic Information System (GIS) Program visited Weitchpec Yurok Magnet Elementary School on Wednesday, Nov. 14, to introduce the students to maps and geography.

Teacher Kate Lowry introduced the GIS team to the students, “Give the scientists a hug,” she said.

GIS Coordinator Rachel Rodriguez told the students, “Technology is cool.”

Shaonna Chase, a GIS Technician, said, “Most schools are math and English based, and we’re trying to give them a different perspective with more options and ideas.”

The school is part of a magnet program run in partnership with the Yurok Tribe, and a Yurok language immersion program is part of the kindergarten through third grade curriculum.

Principal Matt Markus said, “Whenever we can imbed the Yurok language into a subject matter like science, we do it.”

Elly Supahan, the GIS Program Manager for the Yurok Tribe, said, “There’s also a cultural aspect. We want to make sure these kids see what we do here with our natural resources.”

The students were shown maps, slides, and pictures of places, plants and animals from around the world, including the local area.

“What’s this called?” Lowry asked, pointing to a redwood tree.

“Keehl!,” the students responded.

Splitting into small groups, the GIS team also showed the students how to operate handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) units, and how to use them to find their way.

Other sciences projects at the school include a solar weather station on campus, studies of the salmon life cycle and forest management, and field trips to learn traditional techniques of acorn gathering and preparation.

“The partnership with the tribe is really blossoming,” Markus said. “It’s about helping these students become the best community members that they can.”

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