Call of the Wild: Last Trip of the Year!

June 22, 2015 BY Sara Ecker, CCC-SLP

I made it to trip 10 in the NW Arctic!  My final expedition for the year to Kotzebue and Selawik had both the best and the worst weather I had ever seen.  It was so sunny, warm and beautiful some days and super cold with extreme wind on others.  My last trip of the year consisted of watching dog sled races, cross country skiing and of course lots of kid time.

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Assessing students for initial evaluations and three year reevaluations is the hardest and most stressful part of my job.  Thinking about student needs and life expectations is what keeps me up at night.  Even considering the flights to get here, leaving my family, sleeping in a school, not having drinking water, being snowed in etc.  All of those things pale in comparison to the long hours I spend analyzing and contemplating the recommendation to qualify or not qualify a student in rural Alaska. I know I’ve over identified students in my last two years.  I know, because I can see how they learn and how much quicker they retain and learn new information presented. But often it can be tough to tell initially, and students can be tough to dismiss because of low performance on academic and standardized testing.

One of the students I spend an inordinate about of time thinking about, who I’ll call Luke* (not his real name), really demonstrates the quandary I feel on how to measure success.  He demonstrated very low scores on every assessment presented to him.  The student, who is in middle school demonstrated very low receptive standard score in the range of 40s-50s.  His expressive was higher with standard scores in the 50s-60s. At this point, I’m wondering how he can function in school and in life with such a low receptive score.  Then, I talk to one of his teachers who he really loves, who tells me he does well in her class with minimal to moderate cues for following directions, and is able to complete work accurately when motivated. I then ask him for a language sample; which he refuses to have recorded (the first student ever).  He says he wants to talk about fish camp; most families have a regular place they go to in the summer to fish and hunt which have a dwelling on the property.  Anyway, this student weaves this beautiful narrative about how he takes care of his Ana (grandmother) by fishing, hunting and cooking for her and making sure she has wood to make a fire; when he’s talking about this he kicks his feet up on the table next to him and appears to really enjoy talking about taking care of his grandmother.  He’s suddenly relaxed for the first time in several hours of testing.  He then goes into a long narrative about hunting various animals and the processes done to hunt the animals.  I’m dumbfounded.  This student is so multi-faceted that I just feel sad after our time together.  My measurements for assessment feel so inadequate that I feel a little lost.  Perhaps, this student resonates with others who work with students who have different cultural values.  I would love to hear how other SLPs and teachers evaluate students in rural Alaska or the many other multicultural areas in which we work.

Alaska-cross-country-skiing-groupOnce again, my latest adventure here had anunexpected treat.  Nana Nordic arrived to provide a week long clinic for students on how to cross country ski and shoot. Nana Nordic is a program to teach K-12 students biathlon skills to students in the NW Arctic. For whatever reason, skiing is not very common, even with the abundance of snow.  My theory is that is has to do with the lack of resources to make skis, but I’m sure there are many other reasons.  Anyway, what a treat for the kids and for me!  I love to ski and decided to accompany one of my hearing impaired students to the slopes; which consisted of a small but exciting hill next to some shipping containers.  I wanted to see how my students would do in this environment and I was so happy to see the results.  The students, who ski perhaps once a year, were amazing! I don’t know why I was surprised, but even when the winds were howling and the temperature dropping to the -20s for a few days, the kids all showed social, physical and communication strengths.  I was so thankful to see students outside of school in a different environment.


This was my last trip of the year. Thank you to all of the readers of my blog this year! I’ve decided to stay another year with the NW Arctic. I am looking forward to many more visits to this beautiful place and the wonderful people.


Call of the Wild logoHi! I’m Sara Ecker and I am a speech-language pathologist in search of exploration and adventure. Last year I found the ultimate assignment as a SLP in the Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska. This year, I invite you to come along with me as I blog about my experiences in the Great White North. Join me as I travel to remote villages, survive extreme conditions and learn about the rewards and challenges of therapy 30 miles above the Arctic Circle. (You can read all of my prior entries here.)