CHAPTER FOUR
THE ANCHORAGE BOARDING HOME PROGRAM

The effects of the Anchorage Boarding Home Program on village students are complicated. A small group of academically talented village students thrived in the program, especially those placed with outstanding boarding home families. However, the program was a failure for the majority of village students who entered it.

Graduates of the Program

Only a small percentage of those who entered the Anchorage Boarding Home Program remained to graduate. Those who did graduate, however, were unusually successful as a group. They had the highest rate of post-high school success, both in college and other pursuits. Of the 65 graduates from the 1970-72 period, 13 had entered college and 8 were successful. Two of these graduates were doing well at selective colleges outside Alaska. Of those students who returned to the village, one became a well-known village council president and another a village mayor. Both in interviews and in essay responses to our questionnaires, these Anchorage Boarding Home Program graduates were remarkable for their highly developed analytical abilities and their sophisticated, balanced views of complicated issues.

The higher success rate of the Boarding Home Program graduates resulted both from the type of student who was able to stay in the program and from the educational benefits provided by the program. Those who remained were not a typical group of Native students. And for this small group, the Anchorage program was quite valuable.

Much of the positive educational influences of the Anchorage program came from the boarding home family. When boarding home students were placed with very good boarding home families with whom they could develop long-term relationships, the experience was quite beneficial. The value of such an experience was revealed in one graduate's remarks:

It was a great family. I learned a lot from them. They talked to me about philosophy, about life, about being a Native, about psychology. My boarding home mother would analyze things with me and talk about how I was feeling. I began to think a lot. What my boarding home parents said really affected me and my behavior. When I came to the University, I would do things and remember how my boarding home mother would talk to me about that.

Other successful graduates, although not having the advantage of excellent boarding homes, had the personal strength and motivation to survive the bad ones. As one graduate summed up the boarding home family situation:

There are a lot of good homes, but there are bad ones too. While going to school the 4 years, I stayed at seven different homes. Four of them were really good homes. If I could, I would stay with them again. The other three were pretty bad. I think they were just taking care of us for the money. They were overcrowded and two of them served pretty bad food. The longest I stayed at one of these places was a month and a half. At the better homes I spent 1-1/2 years. Even started calling my boarding parents mom and pop.

Boarding home program graduates often pointed out that getting to know their boarding home family made them realize that whites were just people, some good and some bad. One such graduate said:

Kids who went to dormitory schools are more against white people. It must be relationships in the dorm. Kids in a boarding home live with a family and there's a better relationship. It goes both ways, but kids mature faster in a family.

Many graduates felt that the boarding home program gave them an advantage because they got to see how other people lived, and it was a good way of meeting different people. Several pointed out that it was easier to make white friends in early years of the program before so many Boarding Home Program students were placed in a school. One student said:

When I was in the ninth grade, there weren't so many Natives so I made white friends. If you were willing to talk, white kids would be your friends. But the Native had to make the first effort. When a lot of Natives got together, then it was harder to make white friends.

When many village students entered the program, the Native students formed a separate, cohesive peer group. Native students could not easily make friends with other students at the school if they wanted to remain friends with other village students, because they faced disapproval from the Native peer group.

Unlike graduates from the other schools studied, no graduate from the Anchorage Boarding Home Program complained that he had not learned anything in school. On the contrary, many students pointed out that they had learned quite a lot in high school, and knowing they had learned a good deal gave them self-confidence.

I think the high school I graduated from made me proud of myself, even though I wasn't excited through the times I've attended. Now I can be going through life with the knowledge of what I've learned.

Dimond High School is an excellent school. If I had to go back to high school, Dimond High would be my first choice. They have a wide selection of classes for someone who wants to learn something.

Students who had the academic skills to do well in school were less likely to feel threatened by the prejudice of some of the urban students. As one said:

It was a nice high school. Said to have racial problems. It wasn't that bad. I learned a lot about the people. Few people were prejudiced.

Where a student's academic performance was low, however, he was especially likely to perceive widespread prejudice and feel that the teachers were uninterested in him.

The buildings were nice, but the subjects of which I took were very demanding. The teachers went too fast. They didn't care or seem to care about the student.

The Anchorage Boarding Home Program, in sum, had different effects on students depending on the background and personal attributes of the individual student and the types of boarding homes in which they were placed. These graduates could be divided into three groups. One group consisted of academically talented students who were fairly acculturated before entering the program. Even when placed in mediocre boarding homes, they took advantage of the educational opportunities in Anchorage and generally did well afterwards. The following student is typical of this group.

James is five-eighths Eskimo. Both his parents graduated from high school. His father is a store manager, and his mother is a teacher's aide. James graduated in the top 5 percent of his Anchorage high school class and is presently doing well in a selective Eastern college. After graduation he plans to "attend med school, travel, meet more people, have my fun, and work."

James enclosed a long analysis of the positive and negative aspects of the boarding home program and his recommendations for changing the secondary school situation in Alaska. He strongly felt that the Boarding Home Program should remain open to village students and that he would not have learned as much in a high school at home.

The second group of successful Anchorage graduates tended to be academically talented village students who were not highly acculturated but who were placed in unusually good boarding homes.

Jane is 100 percent Eskimo. Her parents are not employed and have an elementary grade education. After graduation from the Anchorage Boarding Home Program, she entered the University of Alaska. Her cumulative college grade point average was 3.65. Her dormitory counselor says she is "an organizer in the dormitory, conscientious, a fine person, with solid goals."

During an interview, Jane was confident, articulate, and at ease. She had lived with the same boarding home parents throughout her high school years and said that they had had a great influence on her. She felt bad that her younger sister was forced to remain in a village high school and did not have the opportunities she had.

The third group of graduates showed serious signs of social and emotional disturbance. Some of the girls had married white men of questionable stability and were having marriage problems. Others had drinking problems. As one said:

When I go back (home) I feel out of place. I start having drinking problems, being between two cultures. Which side am I on? White people or my own people? I feel like that sometimes. I do drink but I try to control myself.

The reason that few cases of this kind appeared in our follow-up study was probably because so many students who developed in negative directions as a result of the program left Anchorage before they graduated. Such students more typically transferred from school to school with the constantly changing situations contributing to their identity confusion.

Effects on Entering Freshmen

For our group of more typical village freshmen, the Anchorage Boarding Home Program was generally a failure. Many students dropped out or transferred to different schools within the first month of the program because they were homesick and unhappy in a strange, white family. By the end of their sophomore year, only 35 percent (14 out of 40) of our sample of 1971-72 village freshmen remained in Anchorage. Yet, a few students had made excellent progress and were quite satisfied with their Anchorage experience.

School-Related Social and Emotional Problems

The Anchorage Boarding Home Program led to school-related social and emotional problems among 61 percent (21 out of 34) of our freshmen group. Of the sophomores, 38 percent (6 out of 16), suffered from such problems. This reduction occurred in part because many students left the program and in part because a few students made a better personal adjustment during their second year.

Academic Progress

In the Boarding Home Program, village students are exposed to English not only in school but also in their boarding home families and in the city. Such "total immersion" methods of language learning often result in rapid progress. Yet, the boarding home students in Anchorage did not demonstrate unusual growth in reading or language achievement. Village students in Anchorage made good academic progress, but their achievement gains were no higher than students in the Beltz dormitory. Students in both schools gained about 1.6 grades in reading achievement and 1 grade in language achievement over their freshman and sophomore years. Possibly progress was not higher in Anchorage, despite the unusual educational opportunities, because students' emotional difficulties interfered with their learning.

Similarly, most village students in Anchorage did not receive much benefit from the wide range of courses available. On the average, students entering Anchorage were reading at 5th-grade level. They were generally placed in an appropriate basic skills program which emphasized elementary reading skills, social studies, and arithmetic. The students took such electives as art, physical education, and typing. During their sophomore year, village students took such specialized courses as ecology or geography. However, all but a few academically talented students did not have the academic preparation to succeed in such courses, and the average grade was "D."

In an attempt to find some course in which village students could succeed, counselors often placed them in classes for slow learners or in work-study programs.

Attitude Changes

The positive effects of the Anchorage Boarding Home Program in developing a better understanding of the world and more ambitious future plans in some students was evident in the attitude changes of village students as revealed on our questionnaires. Of the village students who remained in Anchorage, only 14 percent (2 out of 14) planned to attend college when they entered the program. At the end of their sophomore year, 71 percent (10 out of 14) planned to attend college, the greatest change of any school studied.

Similarly, the occupational goals of village students who entered Anchorage were no different from the goals of students entering other schools studied. At the end of the sophomore year, however, it was only in Anchorage that any students (3 out of 14) planned professional careers. Anchorage students also had more realistic (less stereotyped) occupational plans and did not evidence such common vocabulary errors as saying "electronics" for electrician."

The Boarding Home Families

Many of the problems of village students in the Boarding Home Program were caused by the differences between cultural values and behavior of the Eskimo students and the white boarding home families.1 Village students often felt uncomfortable and out of place in the urban home. Some believed that the boarding home parents had low opinions of them because they did not know, for example, how to use a shower or answer the telephone. Since adolescents in the village were generally treated as adults, students resented urban parents' demands to know where they were at all times. Students frequently complained that the parents "treated me like a baby" and "did not trust me." Chores and eating habits also caused serious problems. Male students often resented housekeeping chores that were "women's work" in the village. Boarding home parents became angry when village students, unaccustomed to budgeting food, ate at one sitting, for example, special treats intended to last the whole family for a week.

In many cases, the year turned into a pitched battle between the parent and the student. As one mother said about a student in our group:

He doesn't mingle in with the family. He doesn't try. He has a brand new room, and cleaning up is terrible. It's just a mess. The kids should be told a little bit more when they come to town. They've got to learn to ask for things. He will sit there and not ask for syrup when its right on the side of the table. When they come to town, they think our house is a hotel, that they will get steak every night. He is a big eater. I bought 35 hot dogs for 4 kids with buns and potato salad and potato chips. Then he complains to the coordinator there's not enough food.

When placed in very good boarding homes, village students had fewer problems. However, because of the large numbers of village students that had to be placed in homes, the boarding home program coordinator could not be selective. According to the coordinator, only 18 percent of the homes used for the students in our group could be considered "very good" (see Table 4-1).

Table 4-1. Boarding Homes in Anchorage During
Sample Students' Freshman Year 1971-72

(Number of Students 37)

 

Percent of Total

Number of Boarding Homes Used per Student

 

1 home

26

70%

2 homes

9

24

3 or more homes

2

5

Total

37

 

Ethnic Group of Boarding Home Families Used

 

White

36

73%

Native

5

10

Mixed

8

16

Total

49

 

Boarding Coordinator's Rating of Home

 

Very Good

9

18%

Good

18

37

Adequate

19

39

Less than Adequate

3

8

Total

49

 

Number of Students Who Planned to Return to Live with Some Boarding Home Family for Sophomore Year

9 out of 19

47%

 

Characteristics of Successful Boarding Home Parents

The successful boarding home parents in Anchorage were not necessarily altruistically motivated, nor were Native parents likely to be more successful than White. Village students placed with Native families or relatives had fewer problems related to cultural differences but more problems related to family quarrels or arising from relatives' expectations that they volunteer a great deal of their time to help around the house. Similarly, while some boarding home parents who took students "for the money" economized on food and provided little personal attention, others felt that the student was helping them and they in turn should help the student. Indeed, parents who took village students for purely altruistic reasons quite often proved inadequate. Some regarded the village student as a civic improvement project and could not understand why the student did not appreciate their efforts to turn him or her into a "Native leader" or "Native beauty contest winner."

Successful boarding home parents, first of all, were warm, demonstrative people. They overcame village students' fears of them by direct expressions of affection. As one father said:

You feel sort of silly telling a 15-year-old girl that you love her. But you've got to do it. They don't have the history of relationships that you have with your own children. They don't know how you feel about them unless you tell them directly.

Second, these successful boarding home parents provided guidance that helped students to resolve cultural conflicts. In a situation of conflicting cultures, they tended to emphasize the more fundamental values that both cultures had in common. For example, the village students were accustomed to coming and going as they pleased. Effective boarding home parents often pointed out that the important value was protecting students. However, there were different dangers in the village and in the city which called for different behavior in each situation. One parent said to his student: "In the village you have to be afraid of wild animals and in the city, wild people."

The School Program

In early years of the Boarding Home Program, village students were placed directly in urban high school classrooms. Unable to follow the fast-paced English of the classroom and afraid of making mistakes before jeering white students, most village students hid in the back of the classroom, refused to open their mouth in class, and learned little.2

For this reason, a new program was established in 1970 for village freshmen. Most of the students in our group attended the "Rural Transition Center," a small store-front high school set up exclusively for village students in downtown Anchorage. During the second semester, students took some courses at an Anchorage junior high school. For other village students, most Anchorage high schools established CORE classes, a 2-hour block of English and social studies.

Both the Rural Transition Center and the CORE classes generally provided an excellent educational program, both in terms of classroom psychological climate and curriculum. Unlike most high school teachers, these teachers saw their role not merely as instructor but also as guidance counselor. They often developed personal relationships with students and helped them with nonacademic problems. For example, some CORE teachers found that one reason village students wore their coats to class was that they did not know how to open their lockers. These teachers then spent a great deal of time explaining such things as how to open lockers, how to find particular classes in the school, and the meaning of such words as "prom" and "suspension." Such instruction could not be provided in a typical integrated high school class because some urban students would mock the ignorance of the village students.

The academic curriculum in these special programs for village students emphasized intensive work in English and social studies. The program gave attention to such things as reading a newspaper and discussing current events. While most high school teachers were not prepared to teach the elementary reading skills students needed, the Rural Transition Center employed a teacher competent in this area and also used teaching machines for individualized language programs.

In contrast to the withdrawn silence of village students in urban high schools, most village students actively participated in the small, informal CORE3 and Rural Transition Center classes. The achievement values and positive attitudes toward school work of Anchorage boarding home students was evident in our testing program. Students worked seriously, and one or two even tried to do better by working past the test time limits.

These informal, personalized school programs, emphasizing basic skills, were quite successful with typical village students. Yet, the urban school district had difficulty establishing them because high schools were not prepared to provide the elementary-level curriculum appropriate to village students' academic preparation. The school district feared charges of segregation if it developed special programs. Also, some students in the programs felt inferior because they were not in the standard high school. The irony of this plan was that village students were taken from the village and placed at great difficulty and expense in Anchorage in an educational program that remarkably resembled a village school.

During their sophomore year, the 14 students remaining from our original group of 40 were generally placed in regular classes in large Anchorage high schools. All but a few were not academically prepared for such classes and had a difficult time. Most of their teachers remembered them as the shy students who were afraid to talk in class and who were doing very badly. As one teacher said:

She doesn't get in with the class. She seems to feel inferior. They have to feel that someone cares before they will work, and I only see them an hour a day. They are always in the minority and that bothers them.

Other teachers were distressed at the poor progress of these students, but they did not know how to help them; they questioned the reason for bringing them to Anchorage at all. One said:

I'm kind of discouraged. Best I can do is hang in. There were no significant gains in developmental reading between the first and second semester. At least I'm not hurting them. I know the tests are rotten and culturally biased. But then they can't get through biology books and other things.

Summary

The Anchorage Boarding Home Program failed 77 percent (30 out of 39) of our sample of entering 1971-72 freshmen.4 Despite the educational opportunities in boarding home families and in the city, Anchorage Boarding Home Program students on the average made no greater progress in English skills than did students at the Beltz Boarding School, although progress in both schools was good. For most village students in Anchorage, the availability of specialized courses meant little because students were not academically prepared for them.

For certain unusual village students, however, the Anchorage Boarding Home Program provided important educational benefits. When these students were placed with exceptionally good boarding homes, the parents helped them to resolve cultural conflicts and increase their understanding of the world. The academically talented village students took advantage of the specialized courses available in city schools. These were the students who, after graduating from the Anchorage Boarding Home Program, tended to be unusually successful in college, or they held important positions in the village. This small group of successful students felt that they had benefited far more from the urban boarding home program than they could have in a village high school.


Endnotes

1 These problems and the characteristics of successful and unsuccessful boarding home parents are discussed in detail in Judith Kleinfeld, Alaska's Urban Boarding Home Program, Institute of Social, Economic, and Government Research; Center for Northern Educational Research, 1972.

2 These problems and the teaching styles of especially successful teachers are discussed in Effective Teachers of Indian and Eskimo Students, Institute of Social, Economic, and Government Research; Center for Northern Educational Research, 1972.

3 An evaluation of a similar CORE program in Fairbanks suggested that village students in these classes made better academic progress. See Franz Klitza, "Informal Teaching Techniques," Journal of American Indian Education (October 1971) 12-15.

4 In calculating success, we omitted one student who transferred to another school because of a family move. Our criteria of success of a high school program for a village student was that the student (1) stayed in the program, (2) did not develop severe or moderately severe school-related social and emotional problems (mild problems are not considered school failure), and (3) gained at least half the expected amount in reading achievement (see Appendix I).

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