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In Mountain Village, students learn language of Alaska’s First People

By Heather Hintze 5:06 PM December 4, 2013

Teacher hopes to inspire students to speak like their ancestors

MOUNTAIN VILLAGE – It’s common for schools to teach French or Spanish, but in Mountain Village, kids are learning the language of Alaska’s First People.

“It’s wonderful and I just want these kids to learn what I grew up with,” said Theresa George, the school’s elementary bilingual teacher.

She’s proud to teach Yupik (also spelled Yu’pik) to first through sixth grade students. It’s quite a change, however, from when she was in school.

“I had the hardest time trying to speak English at school,” she recalled.  “I can remember back then I speak in Yupik to my peers and I got punished for that. So I worked really hard from my friends to speak English, just to be with the group.”

George was still able to speak Yupik at home with her family, but her life was never the same.

“It was like I lost something in my lifestyle,” she said. “I lost something which was my language, my Yupik language.”

Now she has the chance to inspire students to speak like their ancestors.

“These children here now, the language is practically gone,” George said. “Teaching the basics and just a little bit of it, I’m happy for that to increase their way of thinking, their way of speaking it.”

For her, it’s not just about teaching proper sounds and pronunciation; it’s about getting students to understand the meaning behind the words.

“It’s not only the language; a lot of our lifestyle and stories are passed down in Yupik,” she said.

She hopes the students will work to make Yupik a part of their everyday life so that one day they may pass down the language to their children as well.

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