History lied beneath Herman Ed Becker’s feet.
At Evergreen Cemetery Tuesday morning, the Yaakoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School teacher stood, flanked by his small class, next to the grave of Hi Chung. Known as “China Joe,” to locals, Chung was Juneau’s first baker and a venerated figure in the capital city’s early history.
Chung was known as a generous man who lived by the golden rule. Handing out cookies, Becker and local historian Mark Whitman used his example to illustrate the Tlingit cultural value of food sharing.
“Store your wealth in an edible form. When you have more than you need, share it,” he told YDHS students.
The lesson is part of Becker’s two-week Alaska History Workshop. Should the students complete the intensive class, they’ll earn a half a credit toward the 23 required for graduation. With two workshops a year, YDHS students can earn up to 11 credits annually.
Many of Becker’s students, “for one reason or another,” weren’t successful at a different school site. The workshop model gives them another chance at graduating. Last year, the school graduated 49 students.
“We’re a credit recovery program. Our intent is to give these children a chance to have success,” Becker said during a Friday phone interview.
The YDHS students will spend the majority of the school day — around 55-60 hours over two weeks — in Becker’s intensive workshop. That Tuesday, the class visited the Alaska Governor’s Mansion, the Juneau City Museum and attended a lecture from Juneau historian Marie Darlin.
YDHS has used the workshop model for seven years, Becker said. They cover every subject, but all workshops are hands-on and project based.
The classes take students out in the community, allowing some to see their hometown with new eyes. Becker even took students overseas for trips to Berlin, Krakow, Budapest and Prague.
They’re popular with the students. Becker and his colleagues emphasize “blended learning:” the workshops are collaborative, paperless and do away with traditional classroom instruction.
YDHS teachers also try to leverage students’ technological know-how. Each student prepares a presentation at the end of the workshop to demonstrate what they learned.
“Every student I’ve worked with in this school tells us point blank that the workshops are their best experience,” Becker said.
Becker said the Alaska History Workshop, which wraps up next week, is especially powerful. Many of his students haven’t been inside the Alaska State Capitol or the state museum. Visiting those places gives students a personal connection to historical events.
“You see lightbulbs go off,” Becker said. “Seeing the kids actually enjoy learning, that’s the opiate, that’s why we do what we do.”
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2228.