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Kodiak High School students get rare opportunity to participate in the necropsy of a bear


Brenda Finley, KHS Human Anatomy and Medical Terminology educator, spent months creating a unique learning opportunity that has never been done at KHS.  By connecting with Elders in the community, active members of the Alutiiq culture, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and countless others, she created a collaborative, community event that embraced multiple elements to encompass what a special and unique place Kodiak is while also generating an exciting, authentic learning opportunity.


Prior to the event, students were focused on the following questions:

  1. How does bear anatomy compare to that of a human? What anatomically is the same? What is different?
  2. What aspects of the bear are used in subsistence living?  What parts are not?
  3. How does a human dissection method/approach compare to that of the Elders in their subsistence practices?
  4. How are the interactions between Alaska Natives and animals, such as the Kodiak Brown Bear, influenced?


For the day of the necropsy, Brenda Finley invited Dr. Alisha Drabek to present about Alutiiq culture and the significance of the Kodiak Brown Bear. This teaching and learning supported a greater depth of understanding and respect for the Kodiak Bear and its significance in the Alutiiq culture and on the island.  This presentation was added to by Melissa Berns, Old Harbor Native Corporation Board Member, and Koniag Regional Education Coordinator.


The cultural presentation was followed by Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, Nate Svoboda. Nate shared the story of the bear that lay in front of an audience, educating the audience not only about bear safety but the responsibility we all possess to maintain mutual respect between bears and humans. Nate delved into the science of the Kodiak brown bear and fielded countless enthusiastic questions from the audience.


Brenda Finley led the necropsy with the support of Melissa Berns and Nate Svoboda. Brenda concurrently engaged her students while also describing the incisions made, the process underway, and detailing the parts in front of her. The students enthusiastically responded to Brenda as she inquired about the anatomy of the bear and function of the parts as she removed them. Several students also joined her to take part in the dissection. All of the learners were incredibly engaged!


Every seat in the house was a good one! Matt Bieber, KHS Multimedia and Photographer teacher, arranged a camera close-up on the necropsy event that fed into a large screen allowing the audience to see up close and personal.  Brenda Finley also arranged for the entire event to be live-streamed.


What was particularly unique and special about this event were the number of people who physically gathered together to not only make this happen but to witness the event. In the auditorium were proud Alaska natives, Alutiiq Elders, Alaska Department of Fish and Game employees, Rural Schools teachers and students, homeschool learners, Kodiak High School students, and KIBSD staff members. With the event being live-streamed, community members and other schools across the island tuned in (Rural Schools not on site, Kodiak Middle, KIBSD Elementary Schools, and St. Mary’s). 601 watchers tuned in, making this the most viewed event ever broadcast from KHS.  This event reached far and wide highlighting truly authentic education!




Recap provided by Heather Vlach

Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Bender