After-school study pays real dividend

Alaska Native students enticed by achievement and cash payments

Posted: Wednesday, November 30, 2005

School is a bit more cool when cash is the reward for studying, students in a Juneau Native study hall program say.

And now there's an after-school program that pays.

The study hall, sponsored by Tlingit & Haida Central Council, began last week and is paying Alaska Native and American Indian high school students to attend optional study sessions after school in the Juneau-Douglas High School library. Contract and district teachers are focusing on improving Native success rates in math and English at JDHS and Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School and trying to quell the attendance problems this year.

Students are able to earn "scholarship incentives" at a rate of $7.50 per hour by studying from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

"They are expected to attend, work hard and have a strong work ethic," said Sybil Davis, a central council contract teacher who is helping start the program. "They keep track of their hours and I keep track of their hours and then we will pay them the scholarship incentive."

When and how students will be paid is still being discussed, but students are likely to get a check just before Christmas, Davis said.

The program has gained momentum in its second week. Nine Native students attended the first day last week, but more than two dozen attended Tuesday.

"I think that getting paid to get some tutoring has inspired some kids to actually come and try to learn some new things rather than just blowing their education off and going to goof off," said Shivonne Johnson, 17, a senior at Yaakoosge Daakahidi. "I really think it's a good idea to be doing this because I'm hoping it will bring the dropout rates down instead of making them rise."

The instructors have seen a change in the short time the program has been running.

"It's a nice deal for students. They get a snack, they get to work on things they need to work on and they get paid," said Bridget Smith, an English teacher hired by the central council. "I've seen more and more students come every day."

Davis said the cash incentive is not the only thing driving the students to attend the study session. Students were asked to write out their goals for the program, which triggered such responses as, "I want to pass the exam and graduate," "I want to raise my grades," and, "I want to get my diploma."

The poor attendance rate among Native students is resulting in poor grades, said Les Hamley, a JDHS program counselor hired by the central council through a federal Native grant program called Johnson O'Malley.

"So many of the kids that I see are very bright. They just choose not to do much work," said Hamley, who added that there are quite a few who are doing well in school.

He said he thinks Native students in Juneau feel accepted, but don't feel involved.

"They need to have something to belong to, to feel that they belong to and as a part of the school. I see a lot of them are kind of disconnected and just go through the day-to-day class routine," Hamley said. "The kids that are actively involved in a sport or music or drama seem to do better."

Davis said she thinks this program has the potential to improve attendance records of some Native students.

"I hope if they start seeing that they can achieve a little bit of success maybe it will help them to attend more regularly," she said.

The program originated in a central council student leadership group, and later became a reality when agreed upon by an internal think tank at the council. The program will expire at the end of December, and may be picked up again in 2006.

Davis said she hopes the program will continue for an intensive tutoring session prior to the high school exit exam, which is given in April.

Johnson said she is thankful.

"It means a lot, just for acknowledging us and realizing that a lot of us are having problems passing the graduation exams," she said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at

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