The Ketchikan School Board honored Native culture Wednesday in recognition of Alaska Native Heritage Month. The board met at the Saxman Community Center, and the Cape Fox Dancers kicked off the special meeting with dancing, drumming and singing. The board also heard reports about special programs that focus on Native education and culture.
In full regalia, from elders to the very young, the Cape Fox Dancers welcomed the Ketchikan School Board to the Organized Village of Saxman, offering traditional Tlingit singing and dancing.
The dancing was just the start of a meeting that focused on Native culture and education. School Board members heard about the Native Arts program at Ketchikan High School, and were able to see some examples of the crafts students had made through that program.
The board also heard from teachers in the Tribal Scholars Program, which is a partnership between the Ketchikan School District and Ketchikan Indian Community. That program offers classes to Native students, held at KIC’s facilities, and led by certified teachers. The program is funded through a three-year Alaska Native Education Program grant, and this is the third year of that grant.
Here is one of the teachers, Tiffany Pickrell, who said she fell in love with her students right away.
“And I was warned when I first came in. I was warned by people outside of this program that these kids are lazy, they don’t want to work and I had my work cut out for me,” she said. “They could not be more wrong. These kids have really stepped up to the challenge that’s been presented to them.”
Joey Fama is another Tribal Scholars teacher. He formerly taught math and science at Ketchikan High School. He said he had some of the same students at Kayhi, and they didn’t pass his class. In the Tribal Scholars program, though, they did.
“That setting, where you’re switching classes every 50 minutes, and you have six different classes and six different teachers, is not for everyone,” he said.
Fama said Revilla Alternative School provides an option for some students, but that school is best for kids who work well on their own. It doesn’t work for kids who need the interaction of a classroom, but without the instability of constantly switching rooms and teachers.
“Back in the day, they used to have one-room schoolhouses, and that’s what we’re doing in the Tribal Scholars program,” he said.
Peter Stanton is a third Tribal Scholars teacher.
He said, “Every day I come in and I work with 10 amazingly unique students, working on American government, world history and overarching social studies concepts, all at the
Stanton said the program is another way to engage students, and provide an opportunity for them to succeed. He said he would love to see the program continue after the grant expires.
Lee Wallace of the Organized Village of Saxman IRA spoke during public comment, and asked the School Board to look into continuing the Tribal Scholars partnership with KIC.
“You want the very best for all our citizens here in Ketchikan, and I think the program KIC is offering shows us that,” he said. “I think we’d certainly like it to continue and keep those students excelling as they should be. And it will add to your success rate, too.”
The School Board later directed Superintendent Robert Boyle to bring back more information about the Tribal Scholars program, its costs and options for possibly maintaining it.
The board also heard about the Indian Education Act preschool at Fawn Mountain Elementary School. Principal Alonso Escalante said preschools are proven to help students succeed as they continue their education.
The school district’s Indian Policies and Procedures Committee, which currently has disbanded, will reform within the next month. Board Member Dave Timmerman said the district is recruiting committee members, in hopes of having a member from each Native organization within the district.
As the meeting ended, Board President Michelle O’Brien thanked Saxman for hosting the meeting. She said she’d like to do it again next year.
The School Board will meet just once in December, because of the winter holiday. That meeting will be Dec. 17.