Sealaska Heritage Institute
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will kick off an expanded program this Saturday to provide cultural-responsiveness training to Juneau elementary school teachers, administrators and support staff, in an effort to promote teacher connections in Alaska Native cultures, improve school climate, and boost academic success for Alaska Native students.
Through a previous program, Thru the Cultural Lens: A Cultural Connectedness Project for Educators, Sealaska Heritage Institute offered cultural orientations to secondary school educators, but this is the first time the institute has focused the program on primary school staff.
“We’ve offered the program to secondary school educators since 2012, and we’re now putting an emphasis on elementary teachers and students,” said Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl. “It’s important to reach students at all grade levels, and those early years are some of the most formative in terms of academic success.”
Alaska is the only state in the country that requires educators to teach to cultural standards in schools. The standards, which were adopted by the State Board of Education and Early Development in 1998, have not yet been fully applied in Alaska classrooms.
Cultural standards are benchmarks for educators to measure how well they are responding to the cultural well-being of their students. The standards foster a strong connection between students’ experiences in school and their lives outside of school.
Research has shown that Alaska Native students do better academically when their cultures are reflected in classrooms, and cultural standards are key to integrating the Native world view into teaching materials.
“Studies over the past three decades have shown that Native language and culturally-responsive programs are associated with improved academic performance, decreased dropout rates and improved school attendance,” Worl said.
Sealaska Heritage Institute has been on the frontline of developing culturally-relevant materials for educators and programming to help teachers teach to the standards.
Through the current program, Thru the Cultural Lens: Generation Three — an Expanded Cultural Connectedness Project for Educators, participants will create a new lesson plan that incorporates cultural standards or reformat an existing lesson plan to be culturally responsive. Participants will receive 50 hours of cultural orientations, which will culminate in an education conference that draws nationally-known keynote speakers and experts in culturally-responsive education.
The seminars are scheduled over seven Saturdays, with the first one kicking off on Jan. 25 at Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building in Juneau. Sealaska Heritage Institute pays a stipend to educators who complete all seven classes and are responsive to all requirements. Participants are also eligible for three continuing education credits through the University of Alaska Southeast. Sealaska Heritage Institute currently has some seats open.
The program will be offered to the Juneau School District, January-May, 2020 and be expanding to Ketchikan, Annette Island School District, Hydaburg, Petersburg and Wrangell in the 2020-21 school year, times to be determined.
Through the project, Sealaska Heritage Institute also sponsors a statewide Culturally Responsive Education Conference annually. This year the conference will be held in Juneau, August 6-8, 2020, and be open to the public but focused on partner school district educators.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. Sealaska Heritage Institute also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.