Group to help Native students do better in public schools

Posted: Monday, July 09, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Native group will spend up to $2 million annually in Anchorage public schools to help Native students who either are struggling or have dropped out of school.

Cook Inlet Tribal Council Inc. beginning this fall plans to send teams of three people, including a counselor, a tutor and a home coordinator, into middle schools and high schools to work with Native students and their families.

The project will start at a handful of schools and expand to more schools as more money becomes available.

Cook Inlet intends to eventually hire about 30 people, 10 teams of three, and expects to help about 1,000 Native students annually in grades seven through 12. This fall, it will start with two to four teams, at a cost of about $135,000 for each team.

The nonprofit group chose the plan it calls Partners for Success over another idea, starting a charter school for Native teens. It believes it can reach more students by working within existing schools, said Gloria O'Neill, president and chief executive officer of Cook Inlet Tribal Council.

The Anchorage School District welcomes the help.

''I'm very excited about working with them,'' superintendent Carol Comeau said.

District reports show that Native kids are twice as likely to drop out as other students; their grade-point average is C compared with B- for the district as a whole, and Native high school students earn fewer credits annually than other students.

Other efforts, such as tutoring, summer school and special programs at two high schools just for Native students, have not closed the gap in achievement between Native students and non-Natives.

The 6,200 Native students are the largest minority group in the district, 12.5 percent of total enrollment. About 200 additional Native students enroll each year, reflecting a trend of village families moving into the city.

Most Native students do OK in elementary school, but during middle and high school, many do poorly.

Why do so many Native students struggle in Anchorage schools?

Some reasons are obvious. A greater percentage of them are poor, and Native families move their children from one school to another more often than other Anchorage families do. Low income and transience are tied to lower achievement, district testing experts say.

But there's another important problem, said University of Alaska professor Ray Barnhardt: Schools don't pay adequate attention to a student's culture. The student doesn't feel part of the school and stops going.

''We have pretty hard evidence here in Alaska that when schools implement standards for a culturally responsive curriculum, students make the connection'' and stay in school, said Barnhardt, a Fairbanks professor specializing in Native education.

Parents and teachers work together better if school staffers get to know the family values instead of just expecting parents to come in and support the school's efforts, he said.

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