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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School


by Samuel Moses
Lower Kuskokwim School District


The ideal rural Alaska village school should embody the following elements. First and foremost, the academic levels of the children must be kept up to par. Secondly, parents need to get actively involved with their children's education. We also need a more visible number of Natives holding professional positions. Another ingredient for the ideal school is a system that has as one of its goals to respect the culture but place the responsibility for its maintenance in the home. And finally, we should have a wide variety of courses taught by professionals in their fields. 

The word ideal is one of those concepts that will be in existence forever. For my purposes, the word will mean a goal that we can strive for. I will also touch on a romantic notion of what I feel an ideal rural Alaskan high school should be. 

The major criteria of my ideal school would be met if the children's academic levels were reasonably comparable with that of the nation's. I say reasonably because I am well aware of the many factors that come into play when comparing scores with that of other children in different personal, geographic, and socioeconomic environments. Although I said academic levels, lam going to devote this segment of the paper to reading because reading is all-encompassing. 

Within the past five years, I have taught in two different villages. In both villages remedial reading is a course that the majority of the high school students end up taking. I laud the fact that an effort is being made to bring reading levels up, but when the majority of the students in a high school are required to take the course because they don't have an eighth grade reading level, this brings to mind a sad picture. Programs are introduced to remedy the fact, but all too often these programs tend to complicate the matter.

Children absorb an incredible amount of vocabulary words between the ages of five and seven. This is the foundation from which they will develop their level of mastery of a given written and oral language. To be a successful reader in any language, a person must have a working knowledge of that language. Otherwise, we are going to end up offering remedial reading. We will also be offering other courses using modified textbooks designed to be of high interest but low vocabulary, which to me is a firm indicator of academic levels that are below national norms.

Parent involvement in education would definitely help in bringing up the academic levels of children. My ideal school would have parents helping their kids with their homework as often as possible. These same parents would be instilling into their children's minds the importance of receiving a good education. The parents would be attending parent/teacher conferences. They would be attending school board meetings. They would be involved in decision-making activities in areas that affect their children's education. They would be making sure that their kids attend school every day rested and well-fed. If two or three of these goals were met by all parents, we'd be in better shape.

Unfortunately this is not so in our village schools. Teachers joke that bingo and free meals should be offered to whoever comes to parent/teacher conferences. Teachers wish that the parents whose kids need the most help would come to the conferences instead of the other way around. Teachers comment that the local school board meetings would never have quorums if it wasn't for stipends. 

Instead of bemoaning the shortcomings and doing nothing about the seeming lack of concern and involvement, perhaps we should attempt to break the chain by teaching parenting skills to the students in an effort to make them realize that they can make a tremendous difference in the education of their children. Members of the clergy should also devote some time to this area of education during their sessions with couples who are preparing for matrimony. Let's challenge the students to make their children better educated and to take pride in knowing that they made the difference.

Another necessary component of a perfect village school is a visible number of Natives successfully maintaining professional positions. I am an Alaska Native and in all my years of schooling all of my teachers were White. No wonder I went through a major part of my life considering all Whites to be more learned than I. No wonder I went through a major part of my life without self-confidence. No wonder I went through a major part of my life attempting to fill that void by trying to win the approval of Whites. I still bear those scars and I still have bouts with feelings of inferiority. At times when my day isn't going too well, when I'm feeling that I'm holding down a position that a more capable person should have, I think to myself, "at least these children can say, 'if this yo-yo made it this far, I can do even better."'

I'm determined to make my children learned. I'm determined to make my children confident. I'm determined to give my children a wide variety of options. I'm determined to see my children swell with pride and say, "I'm an Alaska Native."

The next component is the stipulation that Native Languages and other related subjects be electives rather than required courses. Our students are bogged down enough with the educational requirements of the state. Let's give them a chance to pursue their own personal interests.

The fact that Native languages are dying out in some villages requires some measures to be taken. There are legitimate causes for concern, but they should not be the underlying reasons why we should shove ideas down the throats of students who don't want to ingest them. Let those who are interested in these subjects take them, but let's give the others a chance to whet and hone their own areas of interest. The preservation of language and culture must begin and remain at home.

Finally, my ideal village high school would have a wide variety of course offerings which students could choose from. Furthermore, these course offerings would be taught by professionals who studied in those specific fields. This is fanciful at best considering the number of students enrolled and the number of educators assigned to each site. This is one of the results of the Molly Hootch settlement that does not sit well with me. This aspect alone has probably set back the education of Alaska Natives twenty years. True, the case led to more high school graduates and less dropouts. True, the case prevented families from becoming alienated from one another. True, there are many positive results that stem from those two facts, but basing my views on the courses that are offered now and on the limitations of an extremely small staff, the weight of diplomas now fall short of measuring up to the diplomas offered by high schools like St. Mary's Mission, Mt. Edgecumbe and others. I would like to add at this point, however, that considering the fact that the teaching staff is so limited in numbers, I feel that most of the high schools are doing a great job. I see a lot of professionals volunteering their time in an effort to advance the quality of education. These educators who are willing to go an extra mile certainly deserve recognition and respect.

The realization of my ideal rural Alaska village school will be long in coming, but all good programs need time to develop. I envision a time when all the areas I have touched upon will be greatly improved. Even the fanciful notion of a curriculum teeming with electives will eventually become a reality one way or another. I would like to take this time to state my gratitude for providing an opportunity for me to bring my views to the surface, lending a stepping stone in my struggle for personal and professional growth.



Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits



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Last modified August 18, 2006