LINGLE – Matthew Cross’ students in Kake, Alaska often ask him about his hometown, Lingle, Wyo.
Cross, a 2005 Lingle-Fort Laramie High School graduate, teaches math to seventh through twelfth graders at Kake City School District, now via Zoom due to the pandemic. Curious students and the need for a digestible, easy lesson in the days leading up to Thanksgiving break gave Cross an idea: to bring Lingle to them.
He contacted his former classmate AJ Gross, social studies teacher at L-FLHS, to set up a meeting. The two classes separated by more than 2,775 miles met via Zoom and shared presentations on their respective hometowns on Tuesday before Thanksgiving break.
“The kids really enjoyed it and other teachers really enjoyed it,” Cross said. “I think they got a lot out of it. It’s a great geography lesson that they’ll remember longer than just staring at a place on a map.”
Lingle and Kake have nearly the same population of less than 600 people, according to U.S. Census data. Both towns are considered rural, but Lingle, of course, is populated by ranches, farms and cattle whereas Kake, an island, is known for boating and fishing.
The goal, Cross said, was not only for students to learn about a different community, but also to encourage them to appreciate the nuances in their own.
“When I put it out for the kids, what their assignment was, I gave a list of examples of things that they might be interested in. At first, a lot of the kids, being teenagers, said, ‘there’s nothing cool here, I don’t know what to do it on,’” Cross said.
What’s normal for teenagers in Lingle isn’t part of daily life for those in Kake, and vice versa. Cross said a lot of his students in Alaska have never seen livestock before. The population of Kake is 71.8% Native American / Indigenous people, according to U.S. Census data, primarily consisting of the Tlingit Tribe, Cross said.
“That was something that (my students) didn’t even think about, and I said, ‘that’s not something they have in Wyoming, they’ve probably never heard of a Tlingit person and here, you guys are all Tlingit,’” he said. “They did a really good job of showing off that side.”
In the presentation, Cross’ students discussed Tlingit moieties or clans, their language, traditional dancing and clothing along with fishing, moose hunting and a drive-in theatre, all important facets of life in Kake.
Gross said he noticed both his students in Lingle and those in Kake were interested in intimate, personal details more so than fast facts that can be gleaned from an internet search.
“Little things, like what’s food like, or what’s it like to play sports there,” Gross said. “It was a fun experience, it was interesting to do for me, as well as the kids.”
Lingle students filled their presentation with community staples, including Fort Laramie National Historic Site, Lira’s Restaurant, a photo of Lingle Police Chief Endra Moen and information on farming and ranching.
Some commonalities emerged between the communities, including hunting and fishing as hobbies, a love of sports and the tendency for inclimate weather.
Gross said the recent shift to Zoom for education allowed for an experience like this one with Cross’ students in Kake.
“That allows them to put a human face with someone out there, a long ways away from themselves,” Gross said. “In the old days we had pen pals, but now we can do a Zoom presentation and a Zoom meeting with people who are a long ways away from where we are.”
As Gross and Cross both said, connecting with students and learning about a community 2,778 miles away beats playing a movie for students before a holiday break.
“Whenever you’re heading into a break, as a teacher, you try and find some way that you can still be kind of productive or engaging,” Gross said. “It was a good opportunity to have kids interested in something, building those presentations and getting to talk to someone else.”