Last week’s big test in Brian Mason’s class at Chugiak High School was not a success. It had been butchered.
Mason hauled a cow moose carcass to class that morning in the back of his pickup truck, and his students spent the rest of the day deboning, separating, grinding, and packaging the animal. The bloodbath was used to immerse students in Alaskan cultural traditions, teach them fundamental anatomy, and teach them real life skills as part of the World Discovery Seminar program.
As nearly 30 of his pupils used small knives to slice up the carcass, he remarked, “What I try to emphasize — and the World Discovery Seminar curriculum as a whole — is experiential learning.” “You may learn about anatomy from diagrams, textbooks, and films, but getting your hands on an animal is an important part of the science.”
According to the CHS website, the World Discovery Seminar (WDS) program at Chugiak is a “school within a school” whose goal is to “establish a smaller learning community that creates a sense of identity, belonging, and teamwork within the WDS program, while maintaining strong ties to the CHS families of departments and programs.”
WDS has around 125 students enrolled and four teachers dedicated to the program. To help students become “multifaceted thinkers,” the curriculum employs the “Paidea” technique, which stresses Socratic dialogue, in-depth study, and hands-on activities.
The hands-on element of the curriculum, according to Ryley Edwards and her WDS classmates, offers them a greater understanding of what they’re learning.
She explained, “We do a lot of things that are more engaging than other classes.” “Learning on the computer is more enjoyable than learning on paper.”
Although it is normal for students to take part in unconventional projects, the moose butchering session on Tuesday was out of the ordinary even for the WDS program. Mason claimed the Alaska Department of Fish and Game granted him an unique Cultural Instructional Harvest Permit, which permits him to harvest game animals for educational purposes.
Each year, roughly 30-40 such licenses are issued, according to Tim Spivey of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, with the majority of them going to schools and villages. The majority of the permits are for moose, with a handful for caribou or deer. Black bears, fur bearers, and even mountain goats can be hunted, but Spivey stated the permits have tight limitations.
He explained, “We don’t just hand out Cultural Education Permits to anyone.”
Applicants must complete an online application and suggest a systematic approach to teach pupils traditional Alaskan practical knowledge and values. Any harvest should not result in a significant decline in population or deprive other hunters of hunting chances. Spivey said he phoned Tim Peltier, the Mat-Su area management biologist, after Mason’s permit was obtained to see if harvesting was possible.
Spivey claimed, “He informed me we didn’t have a problem with them taking another moose.”
The type of moose Mason could shoot was restricted: it had to be an antlerless moose with no calf or female with a calf. Mason was also expected to send a report to Peltier after shooting the moose, detailing the age, sex, particular harvest area, and who shot the moose. Mason will also have to provide a report 30 days after the hunt documenting the educational or cultural program activities that took place, as well as any other relevant details or problems observed, according to Spivey.
According to Spivey, the initiative allows educators and elders to carry on cultural traditions and practices connected to hunting and gathering in Alaska by utilizing the state’s game populations.
“Those are big aspects for Alaska,” he said.
It wasn’t easy to locate and shoot the animal. Mason said it took three weekends of hunting due to poor snow conditions before he finally shot the young cow moose in a swampy region near Willow.
He explained, “The intention was to learn the skinning and quartering procedure as well,” but “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to bring the moose out of the woods whole.”
The students, on the other hand, learned how to debone, trim, and process meat in a clean and safe manner. That entailed giving them a quick tutorial on moose anatomy before handing out gloves and 4-inch deboning knives so they could start chopping under Mason’s and a handful of parent volunteers’ supervision.
He informed them, “If you wouldn’t want it on your steak, you don’t want it on the meat.”
Mason admitted that he was initially concerned about his pupils’ reactions to the class, which required them to deal with visual material while still being responsible with dangerous tools. However, as the cutting began, the class fell silent, got concentrated, and became completely absorbed in the activity at hand.
He remarked, “They’re all being extremely cautious and responsible, and frankly, they’re really engaged.” “I wasn’t sure how some students would handle the procedure of handling a dead animal; it can be a jarring experience for some pupils, but I’ve been blown away by their performance.”
Students, according to student Reuben Dobson, recognized Mason’s trust in them by letting them to use the sharp knives in class.
He said, “I suppose our teacher knew we were here to study and we weren’t going to be stupid.”
Early on in the class, there were a few squeamish moments. Mason told the students that there would be a horrible sound when they separated the moose’s hoof from the rest of its leg, then demonstrated that sound by snapping the hoof off with a loud crack. Some kids shifted in their seats, squirming.
“Talk about a wake-up call,” remarked Jasmine McLean, a student.
McLean admitted that the situation caused her pause.
“You think it’ll be OK, and then you do it, and it’s like, ‘It’s not going to be that simple,’” she explained.
McLean, on the other hand, proved to be a quick study, delving through cartilage and meat as she neatly removed meat from bone.
“Once you get further into it, it gets easier to process,” she remarked.
Students sat at tables while the session progressed, removing fat, tendons, bone, hair, and any dirt or debris from the flesh. Because there were so many people working on the animal, the butchering went extremely quickly.
Chugiak vice principal Ben Johrendt, one of numerous curious officials and teachers who peeked into the classroom during the day, joked, “I need this many people to help with my moose.”
The students ground part of the meat and packed steaks using equipment given by Alaska Butcher Supply after slaughtering it. He said the kids prepared roughly 200 pounds of moose meat, part of which would be cooked and served at a special supper, and the remainder will be donated to charity.
Mason believes his class’s transformation into a makeshift butcher was a success. His students not only learn more about animal anatomy, but they also get a taste of Alaskan culture and traditions.
“I believe that there are some things that can’t be learned from a textbook.”