Concern over Ketchikan’s Native students has been on the rise recently. However, a new program developed by a local tribe and the school district might provide the boost some Native students need to graduate from high school.

Ketchikan Indian Community has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the federal Department of Education’s Alaska Native Education Program.

The three-year grant will fund KIC’s new Tribal Scholars project. Through the project, the tribe will work with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District to provide instruction to eligible students, with a focus on culture.

Camille Booth, KIC’s curriculum and assessment director, said the tribe has been working with the school district since January on ways to improve the success rate for Native students.

“Some of the problems with Native Alaskan education is having an appropriate cultural atmosphere to learn in, particularly once they’ve been challenged by the system,” she said. “Meaning they’re already having a hard time in school, so then to help move them forward, we were thinking, ‘OK, a cultural atmosphere might be more helpful, a more family-style or more informal atmosphere to learn in.’”

Ketchikan’s Native graduation rate now is approximately 56 percent. The Native Scholars program goal is to improve that rate by 15 percent over three years through remedial instruction in core areas, culturally appropriate teaching practices, and behavioral health support.

Each year, the Tribal Scholars program will support 24 high school students. Those students will be taught core classes through the district’s Fast Track online program, but at KIC’s new training center.

“They’re going to get curriculum that’s focused on their needs, as well as one-on-one instruction, all kinds of elements that might help,” Booth said. “And all of that is to increase the graduation rate, and Alaska Native attainment of post-secondary education.”

The students still will be able to participate in elective courses and extracurricular activities at Ketchikan High School.

According to KIC, the structure of the program allows students to take advantage of classes at the high school while also accessing the “culturally relevant, supportive atmosphere of the tribe.”

Booth said the program’s teachers will be Ketchikan School District employees, paid for through KIC’s grant and supervised by both entities. The instruction will differ from the Western model in its delivery.

“When you break it down to a more relationship-based, closer, smaller-group instruction, then you have a chance of reaching all these kids on their level,” she said. “In the Native community, it’s one of the ways that we learn differently. We learn from family members, one-on-one; it’s a more relational type of learning as opposed to teachers in front of the classroom.”

In addition, Booth said the atmosphere at KIC’s education center will provide a focus on Native culture. The program also will stress verbal skills, which she said can be challenging for struggling Native students.

Students chosen for the Native Scholars program can stay with it through graduation, or can transition back into the high school full time. Booth said that, if the 24 students who otherwise might have dropped out are able to graduate, the program will have achieved its goal of boosting Ketchikan’s Native graduation rate by 15 percent.

The new program is expected to start in January.