By Jamey Bradbury, courtesy of Cook Inlet Tribal Council
School on Saturday? Parents, community members, and students didn’t attend classes on Saturday, Oct. 15, but school climate and kindergarten preparedness were the most important things on their minds when they met with Deena Paramo, the new superintendent of the Anchorage School District (ASD).
The meeting was open to all parents and guardians of Alaska Native and American Indian ASD students, and was organized by families involved with Anchorage Realizing Indigenous Student Excellence (ARISE) committees. Since April 2015, 78 families have met regularly to share their concerns and to research education issues.
As parents and students shared personal stories about their experiences within ASD, the superintendent was visibly moved. “The stories they shared ranged from transportation and safety concerns, to the availability of resources, to the importance of Head Start, to the cultural disconnect sometimes felt with the schools,” said Jonathan Larson, ARISE community engagement manager.
Larson’s own daughter described her efforts to get enrolled in an algebra class as an eighth-grader. With mostly As and Bs in her lower-level math classes, she felt ready for a greater challenge; Larson, meanwhile, knew that students who complete algebra-I by the end of eighth grade are statistically more likely to do well in college and to achieve a better standard of living.
However, while Larson’s daughter gained her teacher’s support, her principal shot her idea down, advising that she should stay in pre-algebra. “That made her feel like her principal didn’t believe in her — didn’t think she would be capable or up to the challenge,” Larson said.
When the time came for Paramo to speak, she chose to respond to the concerns of those present. As she spoke about the achievement gap and the culture of ASD schools, the superintendent was moved to tears.
“To me, it was a demonstration that she was empathizing with us,” Larson said. “She felt the hurt, the pain, and was moved emotionally to express it.” Paramo agreed to continue to meet with the ARISE community engagement group twice a year to further the dialogue started at the Oct. 15 meeting.
ARISE is a broad-based partnership of Elders, parents, community members and approximately 20 local organizations and agencies dedicated to community success of Alaska Native and American Indian youth in Anchorage. Its goals are to ensure that all Alaska Native children are empowered and nurtured to make successful academic transitions; achieve emotional, social and physical well-being; and know who they are, their heritage and culture, and their role in the community.
For more information, visit www.arisepartnership.org.