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Alaska's Rural Schools Need New Model, Expert Says

School districts in rural Alaska need to adopt new strategies, including an engaging, Alaska-specific curriculum, to better prepare students for life after graduation, according to Diane Hirshberg, director of the Center for Alaska Education Policy Research.

KDLG, one of Alaska's public radio stations, recently published remarks that Hirshberg made at the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference and Economic Summit in March.  Hirshberg offered solutions to many of the challenges that Alaska's rural schools face due to their isolation, as well as unique characteristics of the state.

About 62 percent of Alaska's schools are rural, and they serve 28 percent of students in the state, according to The Rural School and Community Trust. More than 20 percent of those students are English-language learners, and more than 57 percent are minority students. Adults in rural Alaska have one of the highest unemployment rates compared to rural adults in other states. 

Hirshberg said that to better prepare students for postsecondary life, schools should create an "engaging and hands-on Alaska specific curriculum." She also said that schools need to offer vocational school, technical programs, and college prep to prepare students for opportunities ranging from attending college, to taking over a family business. And in order to mitigate the challenges that "outsiders" face when they move to a rural community to teach, Hirshberg suggested recruiting students from rural communities to pursue teaching and return to their community to teach. 

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