Jan. 10, 2002 Alaska Newspapers Inc. applauds effort to bring on more Native teachers

Posted: Monday, January 14, 2002

Ilisagvik College and the University of Alaska Fairbanks know that to strengthen our rural communities, we must start with the educational system.

They're working together to train teachers from the North Slope who stay in the North Slope, providing children with familiar faces and a better shot at success.

The need for homegrown educators is especially evident in the North Slope, but it's a statewide problem that has kept Alaska's educational system at the bottom of the national heap.

More than 80 percent of non-Natives who teach in rural Alaska leave after the first year, compared to only 5 percent for Natives, said Roger Norris-Tull, dean of UAF's Department of Education.

The schools hope to change that with a pilot program that allows future teachers to alternate between the university in Fairbanks and Ilisagvik College in Barrow during their first four semesters.

The agreement is innovative on several levels, and other communities would be wise to try it. The agreement's got community written all over it, and it answers the Tolerance Commission's call for grassroots initiatives that reduce teacher turnover.

The program kicks off this spring when a community board will select eight North Slope students for the four-year course. An elder will live on campus with the group during summer orientation courses in Fairbanks, providing cultural support and historical wisdom as the students settle into college and the big city.

After a fall semester in Fairbanks, the students will return to Ilisagvik College for courses in the spring, enabling them to participate in the whaling hunt and festivities while providing younger generations with young role models they can look up to.

The revolving education between rural and urban schools, which has not been tried to this extent, will allow Ilisagvik and UAF to maximize their strengths, giving students a solid foundation in both rural and urban coursework, Norris-Tull said.

He hopes that the program expands in the future and takes on its own energy, as the first graduates encourage others to follow in their footsteps. We have the same hope. The program proves that Alaska already has the resources to solve its problems. All it takes is innovation.

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