Indian Education Advisory Committee sets goals

This year the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Title VI Indian Education Advisory Committee is working for strong community partnerships and even representation throughout the district under a new structure.

The advisory committee had its first meeting last week in its new designation under Title VI of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act; it was formerly addressed under Title VII of the act’s predecessor legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act. One of the bigger changes for the committee, however, is the recent restructuring of its bylaws to allow for more equitable representation of the district’s approximately 1,207 Alaska Native and Native American students, according to Native Education Program Coordinator and Chapman School Principal Conrad Woodhead.

“We spent a lot of time redoing our bylaws and making them realistic,” Woodhead said. “They were pretty broad before.”

Under the committee’s previous bylaws, it could have up to 86 seated members during a given school year, which resulted in low participation and difficulties meeting a quorum. The result of tweaking the bylaws is representation through six seats for parents of Title VI students, two student representative seats and one seat filled by a representative of the school district staff. The committee covers subregions of Tyonek, Nikiski, Kenai, Sterling, Soldotna, Seward, Moose Pass, Cooper Landing, Hope, Ninilchik, Anchor Point, Homer, Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham.

The parent representative seat for the subregion covering Seldovia, Nanwalek and Port Graham was still open as of the committee’s Sept. 21 meeting.

“We purposefully put student representation on this (committee),” Woodhead said.

He said the representatives are all meant to serve as access points from Native students and parents to the school district in terms of what they’d like to see in Native education. Giving people a clear place to come with concerns and ideas is a major goal of the representatives, he said.

Krystalynn Scott is the committee’s newly appointed staff representative. A teacher at Skyview Middle School in Soldotna, she went to high school in Homer and is originally from Bethel. Scott said she became interested in serving on the committee along with a friend who also went to school in Homer.

“Alaska Native culture, my Yup’ik heritage, is a big part of who I am,” Scott said, citing the importance of including Native perspective in decisions about education.

The school district gets federal funding for Native students through Title VI, which depends in part on how many Native students identify as such by filling out an OE 506 form. The new form is up and available on the school district’s website, Woodhead said, and is helpful to accurately keeping track of how many Native students are actually in the district, which he said fluctuates throughout the year.

“We really depend on folks to self identify with us in that form,” Woodhead said.

At the recent committee meeting, he said there can sometimes be confusion among students and parents about whether they should self identify as Native and fill out the form. Scott, too, said she occasionally hears from a student who identifies with a certain Native tribe but has not identified as a Native student with the school district. Improved outreach and education about filling out the Title VI paperwork has been a goal of Woodhead’s, he said.

One upcoming focus of the committee will be to foster partnerships with community organizations or groups, like the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and Kenai Peninsula Project GRAD, to better coordinate on projects and programs that can further serve the school district’s Native student population.

For example, two tutors were hired by the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and placed in Mountain View Elementary and Kenai Middle School. Staff at Project GRAD, which serves Native and non-Native students, help identify and support students at several sites in the district for the Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Leadership Program. These students get to partake in leadership and skills programs locally and nationally, said Bonnie Pierce, project manager for Project GRAD.

Coming to the Indian Education Advisory Committee meetings to report as a community partner allows Project GRAD staff to bring feedback and ideas from the students and parents they interact closely with, Pierce said.

“We’re really hearing the perspective of the school and the community, which also means the tribal community,” she said.

Another area the committee will look into this year is its participation in the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) for students in the sixth through eighth grades. The district has sent students to the academy for the last three years, Woodhead said, and they tend to get a lot out of the experience. However, once a student goes through the middle school academy, there are not additional opportunities through the program geared toward high school students, he said.

The committee will explore options to make ANSEP more applicable to more students, or the possibility of creating an ANSEP-like program locally that would cost less and involve community partners, Woodhead said.

“We’re looking at seeing if that’s something we want to continue or if there’s something we can do to create opportunities to include more kids,” he said.

Coordinating a program like ANSEP on a local level would take a lot of logistical work, though, like finding an appropriate facility, working out transportation and securing instructors, Woodhead said. Nothing is set in stone, but the committee will continue looking into options this year, he said.

Scott has experienced taking students to the academy before, and said making sure students get access to Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, or STEAM, education is important to her.

“Brainstorming is something I’m highly interested in,” Scott said of the ANSEP program and of spending Title VI funds in a creative way on the peninsula.

Megan Pacer is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. She can be reached at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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