Education Funding

Grants Aim to Support Alaska Native Students’ Education, Well-Being

By Libby Stanford — September 06, 2022 2 min read
The East Anchorage High and Scammon Bay students gather at a home in the Native Village to learn how to comb fur from a musk ox hide using special combs and common forks. The fur can later be spun into yarn.
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The latest round of federal grants to support Alaska Native students and their education will pump more than $35 million into efforts to recognize the students’ unique experiences.

The 28 U.S. Department of Education grants announced Sept. 2 to Alaska Native organizations, school districts, and “entities in Alaska governed predominantly by Alaska Natives” are part of the Alaska Native Education program. For the past decade, the program has funded projects that recognize the “important roles that Alaska Native languages and cultures play in the educational success and long-term well-being of Alaska Native students,” the department said.

Alaska Native students in the state’s most rural communities often have fewer resources to support their education than their non-native peers. But in the past decade, the Education Department has funded exchange programs, language immersion projects, and ancestral heritage curricula to improve Alaska Native outcomes.

For example, the grant program in the past funded the state’s Sister School Exchange, which allowed students from urban areas like Anchorage to visit rural Native communities and learn about Native culture by participating in activities like skinning otters, turning seal intestines into raincoats, and combing a musk ox hide for wool. Students who participated in that program told Education Week in a 2019 report that it gave them a new understanding of both their culture and cultures different than their own.

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The East Anchorage High and Scammon Bay students gather at a home in the Native Village to learn how to comb fur from a musk ox hide using special combs and common forks. The fur can later be spun into yarn.
The East Anchorage High and Scammon Bay students gather at a home in the Native Village to learn how to comb fur from a musk ox hide using special combs and common forks. The fur can later be spun into yarn.
Erin Irwin/Education Week

The recipients of this year’s grants can use the funds to support curriculum and education programs that address the needs of Alaska Native Students and the development of student enrichment programs in science and mathematics. The department also allows recipients to use the money for training for educators, early-childhood programs, and parent outreach.

For example, the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a Native Alaska preservation nonprofit in Juneau, received $8.8 million in four separate grants for projects that will create culturally responsive STEAM education for middle school students, “indigenize and transform” teacher and administration preparation programs, expand dual language pathways for the Tlingit culture and language, and support learning about the Xaad Kil, Sm’algyax and Lingit ancestors.

The Education Department recently conducted tribal consultation, including multiple listening sessions with Native leaders, to ensure projects funded through both the American Rescue Plan and the Alaska Native Education program are well supported. The department specifically asked Native leaders about how the officials can “meaningfully improve reporting procedures, technical assistance, and peer reviewer recruitment,” according to a news release.

The federal government allocated $85 million in American Rescue Plan funds to Alaska Native organizations and entities that are governed predominately by Alaska Natives.

“Every Alaska Native student—in rural and remote villages, in regional hubs, and in urban centers—should have access to high-quality and culturally responsive educational opportunities,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement about the grant program.

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