Anchorage school program will focus on Alaska Natives

Goal is to make educators sensitive to communication styles

Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2005

ANCHORAGE - Two Anchorage schools are launching a pilot program to make education more accessible for Alaska Native students.

School district officials said the new program at Willow Crest Elementary and Romig Middle School aims to make educators more sensitive to the culture and communication styles of Alaska Native students and establish better relationships with Native parents.

The move stems from a September meeting when many Alaska Natives said they felt ignored and invisible and were horrified by data showing their children are more likely to fail tests and drop out of school.

They asked superintendent Carol Comeau for a pilot program to make education better for Native children. Comeau agreed, and since has met with Native representatives to pick two schools for such a program.

"Romig and Willow Crest are anxious to do it too," said Patty Jacobus, a moderator at the earlier meeting. "They were willing and happy and excited that they were picked."

At Willow Crest, more than one-quarter of the students are Alaska Native, representing all Native-language groups and from as far away as the North Slope and Atka in the Aleutians.

"This will help us recognize and support a large segment of our school, because very few of us have lived in rural Alaska and grown up in a remote Alaska lifestyle," said principal Diane Hoffbauer, who previously worked in Barrow. "They can only imagine how hard the transition is to Anchorage. So we can become a staff that's well educated about where our kids come from."

The project calls for cross-cultural training for all school staff members with a focus on "cultural and communication techniques of Alaska Natives."

"It's about educating the staff about how to communicate better with the Native people, because they do have a different style than white folks have," said Donna Kramer with the Catholic Native Ministry. Her church and the Alaska Native Lutheran Church brought forth the pilot program request.

The next step is to develop training, with help from local Native leaders and organizations such as the Native Heritage Center and Cook Inlet Tribal Council. Comeau wants to start schooling staff members in early 2006.

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