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LKSD program helps recruit local teachers and preserve YK Delta culture

Gaby Salgado/KYUK

All new teachers from the Lower Kuskokwim School District gathered in the Bethel Area High School cafeteria last Thursday for a welcome orientation. Most of them are new to rural Alaska, and some are new to the country. But there was a teacher there named Zachariah Pleasant who went to the class just down the hallway.

“I was born and raised here in beautiful Bethel, Alaska,” said Pleasant. “I will be her first grade teacher at the ME school she attended many months ago.”

Pleasant attended Mickelungut Elitnauerwiat (ME School) as a child growing up at Bethel. She then graduated from Bethel Regional High School in 2011, but she wasn’t immediately sure what career she wanted to pursue. A few years after she graduated, she decided to become a teacher after a chance encounter while fishing. The student dean of the Lower Kuskokwim school district happened to be on the boat that day and asked Pleasant if he wanted to interview for a job.

“I put my shirt on thinking I was going to an interview on Monday morning, and they said, ‘Oh, here are the papers,'” Pleasant said. “And I absolutely loved it. I loved working with the kids.”

Pleasant took the job and worked for many years as a special education intensive care worker. He then decided to take the next step in his career. After six years of qualification study and an internship as a student teacher, Pleasant is now his first grade teacher at the same elementary school he attended.

Teaching in his hometown is a dream job, but it would not have been possible without a long-standing self-development program within the school district called the Career Ladder.

“We want our education to come from the local people,” said Erin Havilland, assistant superintendent of human resources and student services. “That’s how we build sustainability by those who want to stay in our communities.”

Haviland helps run career ladders, also known as educational programs. If accepted into the program, the school district will pay the full cost of the college degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskokwim her campus, as well as the cost of books and other educational materials. The goal of this program is to recruit promising potential teachers from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta who know the area well, know the culture, and want to stay in the area.

Teacher retention is a persistent problem in rural Alaska, and there is a shortage of teachers across the country. His 44% of public schools across the country are now reporting full-time or part-time teacher vacancies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The Lower Kuskokwim School District is no exception. But while other school districts are having serious trouble finding teachers in the post-COVID-19 educational environment, Bethel-based school districts have roughly the same number of job openings as in other years.

“Certainly, our career ladder has really helped ensure the effect that other school districts are seeing,” Haviland said.

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According to the school district, the Career Ladder program will not only fill jobs in remote schools, but it will also help develop culturally fluent staff. Both the school board and community members have made it a priority to teach elementary school students both English and Yupik. To achieve that, school districts need certified Yup’ik-speaking teachers. The Career Ladder Program helps you find local Yupik speakers who often share a similar background to your students. Havilland said these shared experiences are a boon to teachers looking to lead and connect classes.

“No one really understands the area we live in unless you grew up here. It’s put where it should be: in the hands of parents and the community,” Haviland said. “That’s what public education is about.”

Anne-Marie Tinker, a second-grade teacher at Kongiganak who has just completed the Career Ladder Program, said the program has some challenges. For example, people usually work full time and study for a qualification. Still, she believes she can help people become teachers they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to, and help preserve the language and culture of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

“We are seeing a growing number of Yupik-speaking teachers in our district thanks to our career ladder and teacher program,” says Tinker. “It helped me.”

For Pleasant, he’s just thrilled to be able to contribute to the next generation in the town that raised him.

Pleasant said, “It’s great to see the steps students take and see them grow into their future selves.”You can help them put on their shoes and see where they want to go. .”

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