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Native Pathways to Education
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Yup'ik RavenOur Language Our Souls:

The Yup'ik bilingual curriculum of the
Lower Kuskokwim School District: A continuing success story.

Edited by Delena Norris-Tull, University of Alaska Fairbanks,
School of Education, Fairbanks, Alaska
copyright 1999

Chapter 4
Ayaprun Immersion School
By Loddie Ayaprun Jones
Bethel, Alaska
Copyright 1998
" Wa-gguq qanercirturlua tutgaraanka qanatengnaqnuaranka"

Those are the words of my mother which show genuine concern and frustration about our Yup'ik language gradually slipping away from our lives today.

Through the Yup'ik Immersion program here in Bethel, I vow to do all I can to revive or restore what has been a big aspect of our Yup'ik culture, the Yup'ik language, long before contact was made with the western world.

In the Yup'ik Language Immersion Program, the regular school curricula is taught in our language, Yup'ik.

In Bethel back in the early 1970s, there was a growing concern about Yup'ik language revitalization. Somehow these special parents got their concern across. We made my afternoon kindergarten class an all Yup'ik language class, with half an hour for ESL (English as a Second Language). With very little knowledge of teaching a target language, and with limited knowledge of orthography, I remember my first Yup'ik Immersion classes. The program lasted but a few years because I had no support staff, there wasn't really any relevant material then, and there was no follow up to the next grade level due to lack of availability of another Yup'ik speaking teacher.

In the mid- 1980s, again Bethel residents expressed concern that the Yup'ik language was not being taught in the school system. This time the Bethel Advisory School Board (ASB) appointed a committee composed of community members whose main focus was to:

1. Increase the number of hours in a school week that Yup'ik was being taught (but despite their concern the amount of time remained short);

2. Make Yup'ik a requirement for grades K-6 (and this has been so since then).

In the 1990s, we saw the creation of the Bilingual Education Task Force by the Bethel ASB. This task force studied how our Yup'ik language was taught and then made recommendations on how the program must be strengthened. After studying the program for about a year, the task force presented the ASB with a formal request that a total immersion program be started. Our request was accepted but no action was taken. By this time, I had taken several second language acquisition courses.

In 1992 we got started again as a community-led organization composed of instructors from the Kuskokwim Campus, school teachers and administrators, parents and Elders. We studied how such programs got started in other countries like Canada, Greenland and Russia. We advertised and recruited for members knowing that strength in numbers might convince our local ASB to take action. Our board chose not to take any action but our school principal sent a questionnaire out to 100 parents. The results of the survey showed good parental support for a Yup'ik immersion school.

In 1994, members of the Bethel ASB (which included some of the original members of 1992) introduced a formal resolution to start a Yup'ik immersion program once again. There was disagreement between believers and skeptics. How do we convince the skeptics that such a program works? Finally our resolution passed! The Bilingual Department along with the parents got work started on preparing for the initial program to start the following school year. We trained for five weeks on UAA's campus during LKSD's first Summer Institute in May of 1995.

We studied teaching methods, developed relevant material, and visited several immersion schools in the Anchorage area. We officially opened our own little school August of 1995 with 40 kindergarten students enrolled.

Our school complies with the World Language Standards established for schools by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. If you are not familiar with these standards, these are the ones adopted in June of 1995, the same time we were busy getting ready for an exciting school year.

Standard One- All Alaska students K-12 will be able to communicate in two or more languages.

Standard Two- All Alaska students will expand their knowledge of people and cultures through language study.

Standard Three- All Alaska students will have the language skills and cultural knowledge to participate successfully in multilingual communities and the international marketplace

Our mission statement, goals and beliefs were developed during our first institute.

As of May 1998, our program is located in two Bethel sites. Kindergarten and Grade 1 have their own little school next to Mikelnguut Elitnaurviat School. Grades Two and Three are located in Kilbuck Elementary portables. We estimate our total enrollment for August 1998 to be approximately 135 students, which would qualify us for a one-site school. Our Kindergarten teachers are Ayaprun Loddie Jones originally from Scammon Bay and Sally Samson originally from Nunapitchuk. Our First Grade teachers are Qirvan Abby Augustine originally from Emmonak and Cingarkaq Sheila Wallace originally from Nunapitchuk. Our Second grade teachers are Inuqaar Carrie Dahl originally from Nunapitchuk and Panigkaq Agatha Shields originally from Toksook Bay. To be prepared to take over an immersion class, an upcoming teacher must be trained in Yup'ik immersion techniques in the previous year.

Enrollment for our program is by parent choice. We honor parent requests for teachers and if there are more applicants than we can accommodate, we have a waiting list (unlike some immersion schools that use the lottery system). Student placement is always done in a balance of equal number by sex, race, behavior, and ability.

Language acquisition occurs daily when a teacher uses Yup'ik and only Yup'ik through modeling, repetition, TPR (Total Physical Response), and numerous other techniques. Yup'ik immersion classes incorporate the same curricula as our English language classes.

We incorporate different aspects of our Yup'ik culture into the school setting, from snacks of dried fish and aqutaq (Eskimo ice cream) to comparison of the traditional use of the dog team to modern transportation

Within our Curriculum, we deliver language arts, math, science, social studies, art and music as all the other LKSD schools do in the district but our delivery is made only through the use of our Yup'ik language. The only exception is physical education. Since our program is connected to ME School, our classes go to their facility for physical education classes under the guidance of their PE teacher. He relays directions for activities to our classroom aide who then directs them to the students in Yup'ik.

We use the Natural Approach to language acquisition. This approach attempts to duplicate the manner in which you and I learned our first language from our parents, with an additional focus on school learning activities.

Scheduling, processing and the criteria for student evaluation is done the same way as in other schools in the district. We send out report cards the end of the second and the fourth quarter and hold parent teacher conferences at the end of the first and the third quarter. We use the same report cards as ME and Kilbuck School but we need to develop our own. We use the English language for holding parent teacher conferences because a majority of the parents have lost or limited Yup'ik. Also some parents are not from a Yup'ik background.

We have commitment from the Bethel ASB, LKSD Bilingual/ Curriculum Department, and the District Board to insure success of our program. To achieve a program that is fully functioning in Yup'ik from K-6 grade, we must have this commitment.

Parent commitment is very important to our program. If we have parents' full support and dedication, this program will ever flourish and greatly influence the success of our children.

The parent steering committee consists of co-chairs, a secretary, and an activities coordinator. The main purpose of the committee is to give support to the teachers. The committee members coordinate parent involved activities and serve as a bridge between the teachers, parents, administrators, District Office and community. They also plan for the expansion of the program from one grade level to another.

The parent's role at home is to instill pride in learning the Yup'ik language, to have patience and not expect their child to be speaking after a week or month but to understand that the process of acquiring a second language takes years. Parents are urged not to correct child's attempt to pronounce expressions or grammar. They are not to ask the child for translations, or compare the progress of their child to that of others.

We want our parents to talk positively to the children about their day in school, and help by giving support and encouragement on getting adjusted to a completely new environment. The first few months are critical times. The slow process of language acquisition can be frustrating for all involved.

"Wa-gguq tutgaraanka qanircirturlua qanatengnaqnauranka."

Our parents gave us our Yup'ik language. I consider this a very important and precious gift. Before I lost my Father a year and a half ago, I promised myself how wonderful it would be to give the gift back to them through oral and cultural education of our children.


Table of Contents

  • Introduction to the Kuskokwim Delta - Delena Norris-Tull
  • Introduction to the Yup'ik Language and Culture Programs of the Lower Kuskokwim School District - Delena Norris-Tull & Beverly Williams
  • Chapter 1: The Yup'ik First Language Program: Lower Kuskokwim School District - Mary Lou Beaver & Evon Azean, Sr.
  • Chapter 2: The Balanced Literacy Program in Yup'ik - Pamela Yancey & Sophie Shield
  • Chapter 3: Creating Yup'ik Books, Translating, & Orthography - Pamela Yancey & Sophie Shield
  • Chapter 4: Ayaprun Immersion School - Loddie Ayaprun Jones
  • Chapter 5: Analysis of the Yup'ik Immersion Program In Bethel - Agatha Panigkaq John-Shields
  • Chapter 6: Yup'ik Language and Culture: A Description and Analytical View of the 4-6 Yup'ik Thematic Unit - Dora E. Strunk
  • Chapter 7: K-3 Thematic Units and the Alaska Cultural Standards - Nita Yurrliq Rearden
  • Chapter 8: Yup'ik Language and Culture: A Description of the 5th-12th Yup'ik Curriculum and its Revision - Rosalie Lincoln
  • Chapter 9: Yup'ik Discipline Practices Inerquutet and Alerquutet To Implement Into Yup'ik Schools - Theresa Arevgaq John
  • Chapter 10: Recommendations for Yup'ik Curriculum at Lower Kuskokwim School District - Sally Casey

email the editor, D. Norris-Tull


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Last modified August 18, 2006