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Improved Boarding Home Parent Selection

and Parent – Student Matching

This paper has suggested methods of boarding home parent selection and parent-student matching that may increase mutual satisfaction and growth. To summarize these suggestions:

  1. Boarding home parents who cannot communicate warmth to students (Types I & II) should be screened out of the program. The program seems to have successfully avoided Type II parents, who make few demands and allow students to run wild. However, authoritarian Type I parents, who demand immediate conformity to middle-class norms are equally dangerous since their judgmental coldness may lower students' sense of worth and students' rebellion in these homes may cause them to get into serious trouble.
  2. Boarding home parents who live a village life style in the city (Type III) should be used with caution. These homes may provide a desirable transition for new students from traditional villages. They may also offer a home to students who are adult men by western as well as Indian and Eskimo cultural definitions and who cannot adapt to the norms of a western home. However, these parents often cannot effectively influence the behavior of those students enticed by city excitements. Nor can they offer the urban guidance and informal learning experiences available in more western urban homes, whether Native or non-Native.
  3. Boarding home parents who communicate warmth in an open, demonstrative way and who make only necessary demands upon students in a style that allows them to preserve their sense of autonomy (Type IV) should be selected as much as possible. Within this class, parents and students should be matched on many individual criteria. An especially important matching criterion is the congruency of the parents' and students' goals. Parents who are achievement oriented may provide especially useful help to achievement-oriented students.

Boarding home coordinators can identify many potentially successful and unsuccessful parents by attentiveness in initial interviews to parental warmth, ways of responding to problem situations, and attitudes toward Natives. The authoritarian Type I parent, whom it is most critical to eliminate, is generally easy to spot because of the rigidity of his values and his obvious prejudice or indiscriminately positive attitudes toward Natives. Type I parents of the secular missionary style are also easily recognizable because of their stress on achievement values and goals. The casual village life style of Type III parents is easily apparent. The successful Type IV parents are most difficult to identify since their backgrounds are so varied. However, attentiveness to the warmth these parents display in their relationships with the interviewing coordinator, as well as with other family members, might be one valuable clue.

Obtaining better boarding home parents seems more likely to be attained through improved selection methods than through extensive parent orientation programs, although orientation programs might be of some value. Fundamental personality dimensions, such as degree of interpersonal warmth, however, are unlikely to be much influenced by a short training program. Moreover, orientation programs may actually have undesirable effects with certain types of parents, such as authoritarian ones, by giving them information about students' sensitivities that they can use to students' detriment. Orientation programs, which are used only sporadically at present, might be valuable, however, in providing information to new boarding home parents of the Type IV class because the programs would enable them to avoid common misunderstandings and relax more about the relationship. A number of experienced, highly successful boarding home parents mentioned that they had to learn how to be good boarding home parents. Their experience might be useful to others.

Redefinition of Boarding Home Parents' Role to
Restore Legitimate Authority of Natural Parents

A pervasive problem of the boarding home parent-student relationship, even in successful cases, is the ambiguity of the role of the boarding home parent. The parent is told to "treat the student like his own child," but this is at once not enough and too much direction. It is not enough direction because it does not guard against parental abuses. The parent who takes a razor strap to the student asserts, probably with honesty, that he is "treating the student as I would my own." It is also not enough direction because it does not sensitize parents to the particular needs of rural students. As one parent pointed out, "You can't treat them like your own child because you don't have the same history of interaction with them. Your own children know you love them, but with these kids, you have to be much more direct about showing your love."

At the same time, the philosophy of treating the boarding home student like a natural child is too much direction, because it leaves no important role for the natural parents. Usurping the parental role undermines the self-respect of the natural parents and indirectly undermines the self-respect of the student, who identifies with them. As one student pointed out resentfully, "My boarding home parent forgot that I had a family and did not consider the wishes of my parents when they should have." Older and more sophisticated students may become disturbed at what they consider the "fraud" and "pretense" of the boarding home parent-student relationship where the boarding home parents attempt to be their real parents. "They are not really my parents," one said scornfully, "They are always pretending." The philosophy of treating the boarding home student like a natural child is also too much because, in the case of most urban boarding home families who are whites, such a relationship undermines the student's cultural identity. Such treatment will not contribute to the student's pride in an aspect of his identity that is intrinsically a part of him.

Boarding home parents should not be expected to assume the role of a foster parent, a role which implies that the child is in their home because the natural parents are in some way inadequate. They should be advised to treat rural students not like their own children but as the students' parents would like to have them treated. Such a Boarding Home Program philosophy could encourage parents to learn more about students' background and communicate more with the natural parents. This philosophy would help also to restore the natural parents' status and authority. Those boarding home parents who have established such a relationship with the natural parents are often surprised to see how much they are in fundamental agreement. As one natural parent expressed it:

We know how to raise our kids here in the village. We know that they get to run around and do what they want, but we don't worry because we know where they are and who they are with. We know all the people and kids here. But we don't know about the city. We've never lived there like you white men. When our kids go to the boarding home, we want those parents to show our kids how to live in the city like white people do. The parents in town got to be tough on them and make them mind or they'll get into trouble. I don't want them to be mean to my kids but to show them how to stay out of trouble. You white men have lived in towns a lot, you're the ones that know how to get along in the city. We can't tell you what to do, you're the ones who are supposed to know that. (Olsen, 1970)

When the student realizes that his own parents and the boarding home parents are in agreement, the boarding home parent-student relationship often becomes much more relaxed. The student does not feel torn between the two and their differing values and life-styles. The student has a better opportunity to maintain his cultural identity while learning the specific western skills necessary to occupational success.

A Rural Secondary School Option System to Meet the
Different Needs of Different Types of Rural Students

While improvements in parent selection methods and a change in the role assumed by the boarding home parent may increase the success of the Boarding Home Program, a fundamental problem lies not with the program, but with the lack of secondary school alternatives presently available in Alaska. Some types of students thrive with a boarding home family in an urban environment, but others do not. These other students may do better in a dormitory or cottage, where they have the security of their peer group, or in a secondary school program in a Native area, where the transition is not as severe. Secondary school options are needed so that students can select the educational environment most appropriate to their needs. Were such options available, the number of students that enter an urban boarding home program would be sharply reduced, and Boarding Home Program staff would be far more selective about the families who participate.1 Many of the unsatisfactory families presently in the program are known to the coordinators, who would eliminate them if they had other secondary school placement options for students.

The Department of Education should reconsider the present emphasis on regional planning, in which all rural students in a region attend whatever type of secondary school facility is planned for the region. Providing options to students within a region, such as a dormitory and high school in a predominantly Native area and an urban boarding home program, may much more successfully promote the growth of different types of rural students. Since the dormitory facilities presently planned are expected to require a supplementary urban Boarding Home Program, this rural secondary school option system may be quite feasible and require only administrative provision.





Rating of Boarding Home



Very Good



Fairly Good



All Right



Not Good



Very Bad






This information was obtained from students’ reapplication forms and consequently does not include opinions of graduating seniors.

Appendix I


Footnotes, Chapter IV

1It is difficult to estimate the number of boarding home families that are presently satisfactory. About 60% of the 1970-71 boarding home students (excluding graduating seniors) in the Anchorage and Fairbanks area rated their boarding home positively (see Table 5). However, this figure is not the same as a rating of satisfactory individual homes since several students may be placed in one home. Also, it does not include the opinions of those students who dropped out during the year or who transferred from initially unsatisfactory homes. Dr. Robert Krauss, a psychiatrist working with the Anchorage Area Boarding Home Program, estimated that about 70% of the present families are satisfactory.

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