More than 100 students from around the state are in town this week to learn about what it's like to become a teacher in Alaska.
In their home school districts, the mostly Native Alaska students take part in an extracurricular activity called Future Teachers of Alaska, the goal of which is to inspire the students to become teachers in their home state.
The idea is simple: Alaska needs more Alaska Native teachers to produce better students.
According to the state's FTA director, Lolly Carpluk, research shows that "students who have teachers who mirror who they are and where they come from ... are much more successful."
Carpluk said the number of Alaska Native teachers in the state is low compared to the overall teacher population. Statistics from the state Department of Education and Early Development show that in the 2007-08 school year, 397 out of 8,902 teachers were Alaska Native, or 4.5 percent. The Juneau School District employed 22 Alaska Natives during the same time period.
One way to change that, Carpluk said, was to get Alaska Native students interested in teaching while still in school.
Cory Eide, an 11th-grade student from Nome, said it could be hard on Alaska Native students not to have an Alaska Native teacher to look up to in school.
"It kind of gives you the idea that you can't become a teacher because you have to be white to be a teacher. Or you can't go get a college degree because you're stuck in a village," Eide said.
Organizers said they hoped the students could return back to their home school districts and serve as role models.
"One of the best things about this conference is that these students ... will be role models for other Native students, to go to college to have dreams," said Barb Amarok, the first FTA adviser in Nome. "They will be such an inspiration."
This is the first time the gathering has taken place in Juneau, and its fifth year overall, according to event organizers. Students spent part of Thursday taking tours of the state Capitol and the Governor's Mansion.
Today, the students are scheduled to take part in workshops at the University of Alaska Southeast.
Contact reporterAlan Suderman at 523-2268 or firstname.lastname@example.org.