Indian Education Advisory Committee works toward goals

Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s committee that oversees funds for Native students brainstormed ways to reach more students with services and how to continue working toward its goals Wednesday.

The district’s Title VI Indian Education Advisory Committee members decide how to spend the roughly $500,000 in federal dollars the district gets to target services to its Native student population. This demographic has a high school graduation rate of 67 percent, according to the 2014 Native Youth Report filed through the Executive Office of the President.

The committee currently focuses Title VI funds mainly on providing Native students with tutors, sending middle schoolers to the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, or ANSEP, and working with partner Project GRAD to identify and support Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Leaders at district schools. Identifying Native students helps determine how much funding the district gets for these services.

There is no way to predict for sure how much money the district will get for Title VI per student, said Native Education Program Coordinator Conrad Woodhead, who is also principal of Chapman School. The federal funds are based on formulas that are subject to fluctuations based on national numbers and other factors, he said.

“There’s a lot of variables at the federal level,” Woodhead said.

The district currently has 1,206 Native students identified, Woodhead said at Wednesday’s committee meeting. That number could change throughout the year before the district submits a final number to the federal government, he said.

“It’s a moving target,” Woodhead said at the meeting. “It’s always kind of growing and our goal is to continue to expand it. We’re still up about 80 to 90 kids from last year.”

Woodhead said the district gets a new identification form to approve about once a week.

Committee members Michael Bernard, Yaghanen Youth Program Coordinator for the Kenaitze Tribe, and Krystalynn Scott, a math teacher at Skyview Middle School, were voted the committee chair and vice chair, respectively. With Bernard’s appointment, Woodhead will step down from facilitating the committee meetings from this point on, he said.

Other ongoing work discussed Wednesday was the application for a Native Youth Project grant that would place four additional tutors in four district schools that aren’t covered by Title VI funds that provide tutors. The schools identified to have the most need are Seward Middle School, Kenai Middle School, Ninilchik School and Homer Middle School, Woodhead said at the meeting. The grant will be due in May 2017.

Committee members also addressed the ongoing idea to create the district’s own ANSEP-like program in the future. While the institute has been valuable and the middle school students who attend seem to get a lot out of it, Woodhead and others said they would like to be able to offer the hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, education to more Native students than currently get to attend ANSEP. The school district used to pay for students to go to the institute, but since that responsibility was shifted over to the Title VI funds, Woodhead said those involved have started thinking about a way to offer the opportunity to more students for the same amount of money.

A recurring hurdle to developing a similar program in the school district is location and travel, Woodhead said at the meeting. Appropriate venues, like the schools themselves, are often not available until the summer, when it’s harder to get kids involved.

Scott emphasized the importance of forming a subcommittee specifically to explore ANSEP-related options.

The committee also heard from two of its partners, Project Grad, which oversees the Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Leaders, and the Seldovia Village Tribe. Several at the meeting said that, in addition to the tutors, school principals and secretaries, the Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Leaders program has been very helpful in terms of helping the district identify its Native students.

The partners who are out interacting with Native students, and non-Native students in the case of Project Grad, report that the district’s numbers of identified Native students seems low to them, Woodhead said. This keys the district in to the fact that there are still students to find.

“They can ask the question a little more at the ground level, at the kid level,” Woodhead said.

The committee’s meetings are open to the public, and members will next meet at 3 p.m. on Feb. 1, 2017 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Chambers in Soldotna.

 

Megan Pacer can be reached at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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