Many students at the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School (ANCCS) would succeed no matter which school they attended. Others do the best they can under the burden of troubles that run deep. When CIRI shareholder and ANCCS third-grade teacher Angela Blue looks into the eyes of the struggling ones, she often sees her own reflection.
“I feel sometimes kids’ lives get a little tough,” she said. “I like being there for them. A lot of times in my life, nobody was there when I needed them.”
One of 10 children, Blue was in foster care by the time she was 5. At 11, she, a brother and a sister were adopted to a couple in California. Flying away to her new life, her adoptive parents asked why she kept staring out the window. “So I can find my way back to Alaska,” she told them. For years, she had a recurring dream that the Golden Gate Bridge stretched all the way to Alaska, that she’d be walking the bridge home, picking berries along the way with her mother and grandmother.
At 21, she finally did make it back, to reconnect with her mother, her home village of Shageluk, and her culture. Now, as a teacher at the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School, she helps give students what she was denied growing up – a connection to who they are and where they come from, whether it’s using berries to teach math in a cultural context or making dance fans for a school potlatch.
With the help of CIRI education grants, Blue got her teaching degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She now has her sights set on a master’s degree in mathematics.
“School was always a safe haven for me growing up,” she said. “I loved school and I loved learning. Now I enjoy sharing what I know.”
But getting to this point was not without its struggles. Blue has been a single mother living in a shelter. She’s lost loved ones to suicide and seen things too painful to talk about. So when she comes across kids with troubles of their own, she knows what to say to give them hope. And they can look at her and see what’s possible.
A love of teaching seems to run in the family. Blue’s daughter, Kristy Deacon, can often be found in her classroom. Also a CIRI shareholder, Deacon started tutoring younger students while she was in middle school, and has since worked as a substitute teacher and teacher’s aide. Now, as a volunteer, she’s a fixture at the ANCCS. Besides helping out in her mother’s third-grade classroom, she’s secretary of the Academic Policy Committee and fills in at the front desk or wherever she is needed.
Among the many attributes Blue and Deacon appreciate about the charter school is its small size – roughly 225 students – which makes it right around village size.
“For the most part, day to day, we come together like a family,” Deacon said. “We really stress to the older students that they are role models… that they need to help look after the others. In the village, when an Elder has a problem, the younger ones help out.”
They also appreciate how the principal, teachers and staff send students off to class each morning after a group sharing session with words that couldn’t be wiser: “Get smart and be kind.”