Juneau schools mark National American Indian Month

District News

Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Presidential Proclamation establishing November as National American Indian Heritage Month begins: "During American Indian Heritage Month, we celebrate the rich cultural traditions and proud ancestry of American Indians and Alaska Natives, and we recognize the vital contributions these groups have made to the strength and diversity of our society."

There is no better place to celebrate the culture and contributions of Alaska Natives than in Juneau and in Juneau schools. Alaska Natives and American Indians make up 12 percent of the Juneau population and 24 percent of our student population. During this month, Juneau students learn about our national and local Native culture thanks to their classroom teachers and support from the local Native community. Students learn from Native elders who generously share their knowledge with our youth. University of Alaska students and staff have volunteered to tell stories or perform dances for elementary and secondary schools.

Learning about our local Native culture is not limited to a month out of the year. In the Juneau social studies curriculum, third-grade students study Juneau and Southeast Alaska, including the culture groups. In fourth grade, students study Alaska History and Culture. In Middle School, students learn about traditions, values and beliefs of indigenous cultures, study present day Native culture and issues, systems of tribal government, and the principles and impacts of ANCSA and ANILCA. High school students at Yaakoosge Daakahidi are required to take Alaska History and JDHS students can select it as an elective. The State Board of Education is considering Alaska History as a requirement for high school graduation and is supporting schools by providing culturally relevant materials for a high school course.

National American Indian Heritage Month encourages us all to celebrate and learn about Native Alaskan and American Indian culture. It is also a good time to reflect on and celebrate our efforts to close the achievement gap that exists for Alaska Native students in Juneau. We celebrate grants that support Native student learning. Three ongoing grants are Indian Studies, Johnson O'Malley and Early Scholars. The Indian Studies Program has been a part of the Juneau School District since 1973 with funds from the U.S. Office of Indian Education. The purpose of the grant is to serve the special educational and culturally related academic needs of Native students grades K-8. The Johnson O'Malley Program is administered by the Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska and emphasizes academic achievement at Juneau Douglas High School and preschool language instruction. The JDHS Early Scholars Program, with funds from UAS and JSD, seeks to increase the number of Alaska Native students attending college and provide academic support for those students.

We are fortunate to receive some new grants this year that provide additional resources for Native students' learning. The U.S. Department of Education is providing funds to the Juneau School District for Camp WATER and Tides and Building from Success. Camp WATER and Tides continues a summer program that integrates science, language arts and math with exploration and activities emphasizing Native ways of knowing. School year supports include an exploratory teacher for cultural instruction at the middle schools, home school liaisons to increase communications with families and academic tutors to assist with student achievement. The Building from Success grant supports disseminating the Tlingit Language and Literacy Program currently at Harborview to other elementary schools. The expansion of the program is designed to improve the academic performance of Alaska Native students through culturally relevant curriculum.

We are partnering with other organizations on grants for Native students. The Sealaska Heritage Institute, which started the Tlingit Cultural Immersion Program at Harborview Elementary School, now has a number of Native education grants. These grants support the development of Native language and culture curriculum that will benefit Juneau students and students throughout Southeast Alaska. The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska have a curriculum grant to develop culturally relevant math and science units for the high school. For the Safe Schools/ Healthy Students Initiative the district partners with the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Juneau Youth Services, Juneau Police Department, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and Juvenile Justice.

The focus and direction on Native student success is provided by the District's Strategic Plan. Strategy 2's title is "Alaska Native Student Success," and its goal is to identify, create and promote school environments and programs that eliminate disparity in achievement between Alaska Native and other students. The Action Team that leads the work of this strategy meets the second Tuesday of each month at 3:30 PM at the District's Central Office. All are invited to attend.

We gladly join in the celebration of National American Indian Heritage Month and remain committed to make Juneau Schools the best for our students.

• Peggy Cowan is Superintendent of the Juneau School District.

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