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Rural Teachers To Attend Cultural Immersion Camps

Rural Alaska teachers will attend cultural immersion camps to help them better understand the remote Native villages where they will work as part of a new federal grant.

An Associated Press story describes the program that's being funded by the $1.92 million federal Department of Education grant.

The three-year initiative will be developed by the Rose Urban Rural Exchange program, which has been overseeing Alaska Native culture camps for urban educators for more than 10 years. These new cultural immersion camps will target rural educators, and the first week-long program will be held next summer for 30 teachers. Teachers also will go through a three-day cultural orientation.

The camps will introduce teachers to the new and often unfamiliar cultures of their students, as well as prepare them for communities that traditionally have distrusted outsiders, according to the story. Teachers will be assigned mentors through the University of Alaska to help them apply what they've learned in the classroom.

The hope is that teachers who better understand the villages where they work will develop stronger relationships with students and better ways of communicating with them and their families.

According to the story, the annual turnover rate in rural Alaska schools can be as high as 35 percent, compared with urban rates as low as 5 percent. Factors contributing to the high turnover include geographic isolation, high cost of living and pressure to improve low test scores.

"Cultural differences can add to the challenge. Alaska Natives living a subsistence lifestyle might think it's more important for a student to go hunting and put food on the family's table or to attend the funeral of an esteemed elder in another village than to skip such crucial events for a day in school," according to the story.

This story left me wanting to know more. It doesn't describe what has taken place in the camps for urban educators, or how that would be different in the ones for rural teachers. How will they determine whether these rural educator cultural immersion camps are successful? And is this a concept that's unique to Alaska, or are there other sites in the U.S. where this is happening?

Regardless, it's an interesting concept, for sure.

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