Sheldon Jackson College has received a $2 million grant from Congress to begin addressing the shortage of teachers in rural Alaska.
David Harrington, dean of academic affairs at the private college, said the funds are intended to enhance the preparation of teachers for rural Alaska by establishing the Center for Alaska Rural Education at SJC.
"One of the crying needs in rural Alaska is for teachers," he said. "We have a very, very difficult time getting and retaining teachers in rural areas. We intend on addressing this."
The college already offers a bachelor's degree program for teachers, but more needs to be done to recruit Native educators and teachers from rural Alaska and to give them the cultural orientation they will need to remain on the job in the remote villages, Harrington said.
"The burnout in rural Alaska is pretty high," he said.
The college heard several months ago that it was in line for the 40-month grant, although funding did not come through until recently, Harrington said. The grant will support the establishment of the new Center for Alaska Rural Education by the 2003-04 school year.
The center is to be located in the Yaw Building, behind Allen Auditorium. Its programs will work closely with the established Alaska Native Studies program at SJC.
Some of the first projects under the grant will be the recruitment of students this summer for the SJC education program, and planning a Native cultural orientation program for Sitka School District teachers.
Harrington said the college is in the process of reorganizing its education degree program. Under the "articulated" program, students may work toward a one-year education certificate, an associate degree after two years, and finally a bachelor's degree in education and certification by the state.
"Teacher education is a major priority here," Harrington said. "We have the oldest bachelor's program in the state and for a long time we had the only bachelor program.
"We're a small place, but we've done a good job in the past of taking Native rural students and retaining them as teachers."
Harrington cited a recent week-long trip to Kake by SJC education students as one example of the effort the college already makes to address the issue.