Friday, August 31, 2007

By Kendra Krenz

I attended a school board meeting the other day as part of one of my class project. The meeting was opened with a prayer by an elder who has been a member of the school board for many years. There were some issues brought up I wasn’t aware of. First of all, this year we have three new teachers, two are non-locals and one is local native certified teacher who graduated last spring. We have 136 total students and that number will probably fluctuate in the few weeks.

We continue to have new students coming from other villages as well as Anchorage to attend school here. Possible reasons for that could be student’s parents are separated or are divorced. This is a serious issue for the community, because in the past they didn’t have to deal with it as much. Students are staying with various family members. The school staff has to deal with finding the new student when they need to reach that student and they don’t know which house to contact them. Other community members also feel that some of the new students are bad influences on local students and in the community. They are concerned with new students coming to school here without parent supervision and rely on other relatives to take care of them. The school board members strongly feel a child should be living with the parents while attending school in villages, unless they are going away to a boarding school.

For several years the graduating class in Kongiganak has been very limited. Under our new administrator we had more graduates last year. Students from other villages may have seen the increase in the number of graduates from this village last May and decided it would be an easier way to get a diploma. I don’t believe this is the reason, but that could be the thought process.

There has been a concern amongst the school staff that students are coming tired and fall asleep during class periods. The teachers are instructed to make sure the students are awake during the class periods. Parents should tell their children to go to bed early. Students are also asked not to go home during lunch period because some students don’t return to school or come to class tardy.

The administration and community have been concerned with students playing in dangerous areas near the school. Kids are not supposed to be playing around the school property after school and on weekends. They want this to come to an end in order to prevent an accident. Some student’s are hanging around on the school pump or even climbing on teacher housing fuel tanks. The village police officer should be addressing this issue and parents should be watching their children.

Subsistence was also addressed in the meeting. The subsistence life-style is very much part of this community, where people will always be dependant on land and water. The school uses a subsistence activity form but it’s not required by the district. In the last few years students have failed to completed coursework and have been denied credit for a class because they have spent too much time during the school year doing subsistence activities. Parents have been notified that students missing 20 or more days of school (excused/unexcused) will receive failing grades. The next community meeting will address how many times per quarter students can take an excused absence for subsistence hunting.

The School Improvement Plan for 2007-2008 school year was discussed at the meeting The major goal this year includes helping student succeed. There will an after school program for students who need to improve their reading, writing and math. Students falling behind in coursework will be required to stay an extra 30 minutes for tutoring by a certified teacher in order to help them in their weak areas. If students are doing well, they are not required to after school program.

The school board was in favor of the new improvement plan to keep track of the students progress overall and oversee what it takes for students to continue to succeed.


skipvia said...

Kendra, this is a very thought-provoking post, and is a great example of why we need to be telling the stories of the communities we live in. You provide a very cogent description of some of the conflicts that occur between old ways and new ways, among broken or separated families, and among the struggle to maintain one culture while living in another--here I'm referring to the subsistence issue. It's important to realize that even small communities like Kongiganak can have problems that urban communities face, but that they also have problems that are unique to rural Alaska. It's so important that we tell these stories and make them known to people all over Alaska. It's so often the case that education fails rural Alaskans. I don't have any answers, but I'm convinced that you and your colleagues will find some.

Excellent post! Keep up the good work.

Joanna Phillips said...

It's sad that rural schools seem to have so much trouble with issues like parental supervision of the students. I was speaking to a group of teachers awhile back and one of them said that if they had it their way, the school year would be broken up to accommodate subsistance. They would also change the hours of attendance to reflect the "late" hours the typical rural student keeps. It was a joke, but I could see that all the others involved in the conversation actually considered it in their minds. Maybe it's not such a bad idea.

skipvia said...

With regard to Joanna's comment--it's not that much of a joke. Subsistence DOES clash with school, and teenagers (rural and urban) DO keep later hours. We know all these things, and yet we seem to design school to ignore the realities of life. Why is this? There are some historical reasons. For example, we have summers off because schooling used to be based on an agrarian calendar and the students needed to help on the farm in the summer months. There are some practical reasons. In high school, we start students early so that they can go to afternoon jobs or participate in sports practices.

But these issues impact learning in significant ways and make schooling more of a chore for a lot of people. I think we can agree that many rural schools underserve their students. So why do we continue to insist that they come to school when they need to gather food for the winter? (Isn't that an important activity?) Why do we make high schoolers try and learn when biology tells us that they are not fully capable of doing so early in the morning?

I'd like to see a rural school rearrange their schedule to accommodate the needs of their students and their families. Maybe they'd be more relevant and more successful.