$14.5 million in federal funds to boost Native school programs across the state

Posted: Thursday, October 02, 2003

The office of Sen. Ted Stevens announced this week that $14.5 million in federal funds will go to Native education programs in Alaska.

In Juneau, the money will help expand a Tlingit-oriented elementary school program, continue a popular science summer camp that has a Native focus and provide home educational and social services to preschoolers.

The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Education under the Alaska Native Education Equity Act, an amendment sponsored by Stevens, an Alaska Republican, to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Among this year's 32 grants, funds will go toward distance learning for rural school aides, CD-ROMs and books about Yup'ik culture, vocational training, development of Athabascan- and Inupiaq-oriented math and science curricula and family literacy.

The Juneau School District received a $497,613 grant to expand its Tlingit-oriented classrooms at Harborview Elementary School to the fifth grade and to prepare more schools to add such classrooms. The classes, which include non-Natives, incorporate Tlingit language and culture in the curriculum.

The program, now in its fourth year, has 48 students from kindergarten to fourth grade in two multi-age classrooms. The fifth-grade expansion could take place next school year, and the program could start up in other district schools two years from now, said Assistant Superintendent Bernie Sorenson.

A recent study of the program's first three years showed that most of its students read at the appropriate grade level, and on average the classes do as well as, or better than, other classrooms in the district on reading and writing tests.

The Juneau schools also received a $455,806 grant to continue Camp W.A.T.E.R. - a science- and Native-oriented summer program in its seventh year - and to offer academic help and after-school activities to those students throughout the school year.

The summer camp serves about 40 middle school students a year, about half of whom are Native. The camp's name stands for wilderness, adventure, traditions, exploration and research.

Both grants are the first year of a three-year appropriation.

"The grants that we're trying to target are ones where we're looking at successful programs or at least promising practices, and figure out how to make them continue beyond the life of the grant," Sorenson said.

The Southeast Regional Resource Center, a statewide nonprofit educational organization based in Juneau, received $520,000 to continue its ANSWER Camps, a summer program for rural seventh- and eighth-graders.

The camps, now in their seventh year and held in Sitka, have offered science, math and Native ways of knowing to about 180 students a year in recent years.

The latest grant is the first year of a three-year grant. But it's smaller than usual, and unless SERRC finds more funds, the program will serve fewer students next summer, said Sheryl Weinberg, the program director and SERRC's associate director.

"We have married traditional values and content - Native ways of knowing - with Western academic content," Weinberg said.

"We have data that shows that (ANSWER) camp makes a difference in academic performance, success in high school, attitudes toward math and science, and how they see themselves as students," she said.

The Tlingit-Haida Central Council, whose services include Head Start preschool programs, received $412,500, the first of three annual grants.

It will pay for a program called Creating Cultural Foundations, which will develop a Tlingit-oriented curriculum for preschoolers at home and in Head Start centers.

The grant also will pay for home-based educational and social services to preschoolers and their families in Juneau, Petersburg and Craig/Klawock, said Jackie Tagaban, the Head Start assistant manager.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for us at a time when the political climate is looking at English-language acquisition," Tagaban said. "An important foundation for young children is to be able to connect with their culture in school, which typically has not been the case."

Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau received $467,772 to develop curriculum and teaching materials for Haida-language programs for young children in Hydaburg, on Prince of Wales Island.

The grant will allow the institute to work with all 10 Alaskans who speak Haida fluently, said Rosita Worl, the institute's president.

"The primary objective really is to develop the curriculum so it can be taught in schools," Worl said. "Students who have the opportunity to study in their Native heritage language do better academically."

In other Southeast grants, Hoonah schools received $269,128 for a program in which parents teach their children. And Craig schools received $353,168 for a math teacher who will work with struggling children and their caregivers, and for parenting education, day care and transportation.

• Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.

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