The nationwide debate over the No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law by President Bush in 2002, continues in Juneau this week at the Southeast Alaska Native Women's Conference at the ANB hall.
"The purpose, the goal of this Native women's conference is for us to understand the No Child Left Behind legislation and its impact on the schools, the community and our children," Joaqlin Estus said in her welcome address to the Southeast Alaska Native Women's Conference Thursday afternoon.
"It's hard to imagine legislation that is so sweeping as the No Child Left Behind Act," Estus said.
Sixty-eight women gathered at the ANB Hall Thursday for the conference, which continues today and Saturday. The conference focuses on a different subject every time it convenes, which usually is once every two years in different Southeast Alaska towns.
Programs that instruct students on Native culture and language are at risk under the No Child Left Behind legislation, said Johanna Dybdahl, president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp. She came to Juneau from Hoonah to participate in the conference.
"What we're trying to come up with here is some tools that we can use in our communities," Dybdahl said.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires that schools use funding to focus primarily on reading, writing and arithmetic. Under the law, students are required to take yearly exams to ensure they meet the basic requirements for grade level.
The purpose of the law is indisputable: to ensure that every child has access to an adequate education, said Edna Belarde Lamebull, director of the Indian Education Program for the Anchorage School District. She is one of the keynote speakers at the conference.
But the bill dramatically changes the way funding is distributed for school programs. Some Alaska Natives who excel in school do so primarily because the Native cultural education piques their interests. With less money available for cultural programs, Natives need to take it upon themselves to ensure their children are educated, Lamebull said.
"Does your school look different than a school in Kansas, in New York City? It should," Lamebull said.
Natives need to take a proactive stance in their children's education, Lamebull said. They need to read to their children, teach them Native cultures and Native languages and volunteer in schools.
"You know what works with your kids, with your grandkids," she said. "Share that information with your teachers."
Conference organizers hope attendees will leave with a better understanding of the No Child Left Behind legislation, and a plan for ensuring Native children know their culture as well as their ABCs.
Ronalda Cadiente, an administrator in the Juneau School District, is attending the conference as an active member of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, but also to share her point of view as a school system employee.
"It's a mandate that impacts money in education and impacts means of services," Cadiente said. "It's forcing school reform."