Program Seeks to Increase Number of Certified Alaska Native Teachers in Rural Alaska
It’s a lopsided ratio: 80 percent of rural students are Alaska Native and only 5 percent of certified teachers in the state can say the same thing.
The school year may be coming to a close, but the work is just beginning for one organization looking to increase the number of Alaska Native teachers in rural Alaska where students and their scores are suffering because of high teacher turnover rates.
It’s a lopsided ratio: 80 percent of rural students are Alaska Native and only five percent of certified teachers in the state can say the same thing.
For Noel Gould-Strick, becoming a teacher wasn't her first choice for a job.
“When I was in school I never thought I would be a teacher,” said Gould-Strick. “My mom's a teacher and I was like, ‘no I will never do that.’”
But that quickly changed for the Alaska Native mom of four who wanted to make a difference in rural kids’ lives by going back to school to one day teach them.
“We need to be there, we need to be a voice for our children,” said Gould-Strick. “I want to see my children stay and do well.”
But seeing an Alaska Native teacher in Alaska is not very common.
“Certified Alaska Native teachers in the Kuspuk School District…we have two that I believe of,” said Brad Allen, superintendent of the Kuspuk School District.
75 percent of teachers come from the outside and in rural Alaska, not many of them stay long enough to make an impact on improving low test scores and achievement.
“Some don't even stay the semester,” said Anishia Elbie, manager of the Alaska Native Teacher Initiative.
It’s a program that is working with 90 teaching candidates like Noel Gould-Strick who understand and can reach kids in villages.
“It’s about putting people that are interested in staying, people that are highly trained, people that understand the culture,” said Kameron Perez-Verdia, CEO of Avant-Garde Learning Center, the organization running the initiative.
“With that local teaching force, people committed to the area, lifelong residents who will stay that's going to make that turnover non-existent.”
The initiative's mission is to increase the number of Alaska Native teachers teaching in rural Alaska in order to inspire the next generation of kids to learn and be competitive with the rest of the world.
“It’s kids’ perceptions about them being able to go on to these future job opportunities are and once that ceiling is broken, the sky's the limit,” said Allen.
Gould-Strick believes every Alaskan kid should have the chance to reach the sky.
“There shouldn't be a difference when they transition out of rural Alaska into urban, they should be able to be academically equal,” she continued.
The Alaska Native Teachers Initiative is a partnership between universities, school districts, and big businesses like Shell Oil that have been investing since the program's beginning.
With six Alaska Native graduates this year, including Noel Gould-Strick who will be teaching elementary school in McGrath, they hope to continue offering support and scholarships to get more people in the classroom.
The prospective teachers hope to motivate children in the classroom from the perspective of someone who has walked in their shoes.