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Two Remote Schools Struggle to Make Classes Relevant for Native Students

The challenges facing Native schools across the country are profound, and a new article puts those in perspective by highlighting the plight of a couple of remote Alaska schools.

In a story for The Atlantic, writer Sarah Garland spent some time in two isolated schools in Savoonga and Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in Alaska. This island is so remote that it's not accessible by road, and it doesn't have any hotels (Garland reports sleeping on the library floor and in a spare room at the principal's house).

The quandaries for these and Native schools nationwide are many, Garland writes. How can educators make classes relevant for students who don't know many academically successful adults? How do schools encourage students to further their education away at college while preserving Native culture? And how does the country balance federal accountability with schools that say they need more local control?

The article is an interesting read, in part because these schools and their communities are so remote. But in many ways, their struggles are universal among Native schools, particularly in following federal mandates.

"We want our children to achieve academically, but we need to be able to design programs that deal with the challenges they face day-to-day," Ahniwake Rose, executive director of the National Indian Education Association, is quoted as saying in the story. "The federal government is not going to understand what those challenges are."

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