New school takes on Native dropout rate

Posted: Wednesday, April 28, 2004

FAIRBANKS (AP) Officials alarmed at high Alaska Native student dropout rates are proposing a charter school aimed at keeping students in school.

Of about 190 Native freshmen who started high school in 2000, fewer than 80 entered 12th grade four years later, said Sharon McConnell Gillis, executive director for the Doyon Foundation.

''These are really staggering statistics,'' Gillis told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

A committee of Native and education leaders hope the Effie Kokrine Charter School will help change those numbers. The group hopes to bring a proposal for the 150-student secondary charter school to the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District school board this summer.

''We know that what is currently being done is not working for our Native students,'' Gillis said.

If approved by the school district and the state school board, the charters school would open in 2005, serving Native and non-Native students in seventh through ninth grades.

A defining characteristic of the school, as it's proposed, is its curriculum. Organizers plan to teach all academic subjects using Native culture and practices.

A science unit on weather could include both traditional and modern forecasting methods. Government and history lessons might include an emphasis on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and tribal, state and federal laws that affect Native people, organizers said.

The committee also hopes to hire as many Native teachers as possible, bring elders into the classroom on a regular basis and require parent involvement in the school.

''We envision school starting off in the fall with a spirit camp or a cultural camp,'' said Bob McGuire, director of the learning styles center project for the Association of Interior Native Educators, which will serve as the umbrella organization for the charter school. ''A lot of the things in this curriculum are not just things you can talk about in the classroom. You have to get out and experience them as much as possible.''

McGuire said the curriculum's emphasis on Native culture should make it more relevant to students.

''I think the basic effect is right from the beginning we will have students having pride and taking control and interest of their own education,'' he said.

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