A History…

PLU professor Jan Weiss provides a history of how this “summer opportunity” came about.

Two years ago in May 2011, the Department of Education received a request for summer school teachers in the Yupiit School district in rural Alaska. I posted the request on the Sakai site for student teachers as a “Summer Opportunity.” No one responded that year.

In April 2012, I received an e-mail from Diane George, Assistant Superintendent of the Yupiit School District.  She described the opportunity:

The Yupiit School District is a remote district in western Alaska on the Kuskokwim River. We are accessible by plane (and boat in the summer). We do not have a road system. Our student population is 99% Alaska Native (Yup’ik).  We are considered a high poverty school district.

We will be running our summer school program from June 11 – June 29. The summer school program is open to students in grades K-8 and high school students interested in credit recovery. It is not mandatory. Students receive instruction in reading, writing and math each day. We strive to incorporate local cultural and elder knowledge into the summer school learning experience as much as possible. With community support we provide opportunities to tie western educational systems into summer subsistence activities.  

We will pay transportation for the summer school teachers from their point of hire to the village they will be residing in. We do have housing available (vacant teacher housing). Staff will need to bring food, bedding, etc.

For some reason, the information struck a chord with me and I responded to it saying although I coordinate the teacher education program at PLU, I would be interested in teaching.  She asked for my resume, and a day or two later I received a call from Paul Berg, ’71, who coordinated the summer school program. He told me after looking at my resume he “wondered if I were for real.” After an hour phone conversation, he wanted me to come up and provide support for summer school and new teacher training. I then posted the opportunity on the Sakai site for student teachers.  Diane George who was in Washington for recruitment spoke one evening at PLU to eight interested students about teaching in rural Alaska. A week later two undergraduates were offered summer positions. That summer two students, a junior anthropology major (Sara Stiehl ’13) who was completing a summer internship with Paul Berg  ‘71 helping with the summer school and new teacher programs, my daughter, a junior at Santa Clara, along with myself flew up to Alaska. Sara did a phenomenal job supporting the district’s programs. The two teachers, my daughter Lindsey, a seasoned village teacher and my support created a vibrant summer school program. (Day 1 enrollment for the K-12 program: 21; final enrollment: 78)  The district was pleased with the commitment of the teachers and the program outcomes.

This year in early May I received a phone call from Diane. She informed me that Linnea Olson along with her cousin Kari Olson would be teaching in Tuluksak. Then she said she would need 4 more teachers to support the summer school programs. Teaching in the villages seemed to be a good match for our candidates who began their student teaching in Namibia. Ultimately she ended up hiring 6 recent grads who had began their student teaching in Namibia. My role became providing a day-long training for the teachers and an additional one-day support at each school. She also mentioned that ALL references were glowing and she was lucky to have them as part of the program. She has expressed excitement about the developing PLU-Yupiit School District partnership.

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