SHI launches program to teach literacy skills through the arts

Sealaska Heritage Institute has launched a new program this month to improve literacy skills and increase use of the Tlingit language through performing arts and digital storytelling.

The program, Voices on the Land, will integrate performing arts and digital storytelling into six Juneau schools over three years through artists in residence, digital storytelling and a teacher training academy. The first component — the artists in residence program — launched in January 2015 at Gastineau Elementary, Harborview Elementary and Dzantik’I Heeni Middle School. The current artist in residency is former Juneau resident Ryan Conarro, who will be followed by local artist Roblin Gray Davis. In the second year, students at those schools will learn digital storytelling while the artists in residence program will be offered at Floyd Dryden Middle School, Riverbend Elementary and Glacier Valley Elementary, which will have digital storytelling in year three. The Tlingit language will be integrated into the activities.

The goal is to increase academic achievement of Alaska Native students through the arts, said SHI President Rosita Worl in a release.

“We are using the arts and traditional knowledge to draw students into activities that will enhance their academic performance,” Worl said.

Through the program, students will help to create theatrical productions and scripts based on traditional knowledge and share what they produced with other students. In the process, students will enhance their skills in writing, reading, speaking and listening.

Students also will produce digital stories and sets of illustrated storybooks based on cultural knowledge which will enhance their skills in writing, speaking and technology.

SHI also will partner with the Alaska Arts Education Consortium on a summer program to train teachers on how to use the arts as a teaching tool. The program is funded through a grant from the Alaska Native Education Program. The program is managed by SHI’s Native Language Specialist Katrina Hotch.

Sealaska Heritage Institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

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