Educational and Economic Disparities Stark in Rural Alaska (KTVA.com Exclusive)
Economies remain flat despite rising graduation rates
“There are so many things that can be done virtually, but are we actually thinking about ways that we can structure our economies around that?” she asked. “I don't know the answer to that.”
The Lower Kuskokwim School District offered educational iPad applications and other tools for virtual learning, giving local students access to opportunities well beyond the realm of traditional village schools. But when it came to using technology to create jobs post-graduation, many rural economies hadn’t yet caught up.
Hirshberg said the low number of Alaska Native teachers could be responsible. Less than five percent of Last Frontier educators are Alaska Native, and she said the economics of teaching prompted nearly half of all teaching program graduates to pursue careers outside the classroom.
If it paid more to teach in rural villages, more students might be prompted to return home after graduation. If more students pursued teaching careers in their rural communities, Hirshberg said it could solidify the school’s position as a village hub and encourage other graduates to return, too.
Rather than a rotating cycle of outside teachers, she said educators raised in the schools they teach in could act as economic and social anchors for their communities.
“We've got a cycle that we need to work on, changing who owns the school,” Hirshberg said.
Standing in the Dena’ina Center, surrounded by hundreds of other students from schools around the state, Paul seemed overwhelmed. He said he planned on going to college after graduation from Chief Paul Memorial High School, and returning after earning his degree.
“There’s a lot of choices,” he said slowly.
But when it came to the career path that would bring him home and the jobs that would keep him there, the choices narrowed.