CHAPTER FIVE
VILLAGE HIGH SCHOOLS

In 1972-73, new ninth- and tenth-grade programs were established in several small villages, primarily because of pressure from village parents who wished their children to remain at home. Eskimo parents traditionally place great value on strong family bonds, and separation from children can be a very painful experience.1 In addition, parents worry about plane crashes or that they or their children will get sick and die and never see each other again. In general, village parents strongly desire high schools at home.

Drop-Out and School-Related Social and Emotional Problems

The drop-out rate in these new ninth- and tenth-grade village programs was 6 percent, substantially lower than in other types of high schools. Students attending high school at home also had dramatically lower rates of social and emotional problems (see Table 5-1). According to the village teachers surveyed (response rate equals 9 out of 11), only 11 percent of the village ninth and tenth graders in these programs had drinking problems, almost none of which were severe. There were no suicide threats or attempts. Only about 3 percent of the students suffered from other types of social and emotional problems such as withdrawal in the classroom. Teachers reported that such problems, when they do occur, often resulted from a family situation and that most students seemed to handle them well. (For example, if a student had trouble at home, he might move in with another family in the village). Only one village teacher reported problems which were school-related. This involved some students who were angry and depressed because they could not leave home for high school.

Table 5-1. Social and Emotional Problems of Freshman and Sophomore Students
in Village Ninth- and Tenth-Grade Programs 1973

Village*

Enrollment of Students from Village

Drinking Problems

Suicide Attempt/ Gesture

Other (e.g., depression, hysteria)

Comments

 

 

Mild

Moderate

Severe

 

 

 

Savoonga

17

2

0

0

0

3

Outside evaluator: none of problems were school-related and two cases improved over school year

Chignik Lagoon

3

0

0

0

0

0

 

Togiak

24

0

0

0

0

0

Teacher: 6 sophomores who had serious behavior problems in Bethel did well when home in village

Noorvik

10

0

0

0

0

0

 

Nondalton

9

0

0

0

0

0

 

Nulato

25

5

0

0

0

1

Teacher: some hyperactivity and withdrawal

Sandpoint

30

4

0

1

0

0

Teacher: problems related to home environment but coping reasonably well

Selawik

27

5-6

0

0

0

0

Teacher: minor problems, nothing serious

Kivalina

13

0

0

0

0

"just a few"

Teacher: a few cases of depression and outbreaks of anger, some of which arise from frustration at not being able to go out to high school

TOTALS

158

16-17

0

1

0

4

 

 

 

10.5%

0%

.6%

0%

2.5%

 

*This information is based on a questionnaire survey of village teachers.

 

Such a spectacular decrease in social and emotional problems in village high schools is to be expected when we consider the causes of village students' problems away from home. The students' social and emotional problems were not in the main caused by what happened to them in the high school classroom. Rather, the problems resulted, first of all, from separation from their parents in cultures where traditionally and, to a large extent today, the family is the central source of emotional support and social control. Second, their problems resulted from the negative influences of disorganized regional towns. Third, the problems resulted from the living situationócultural conflicts in urban boarding home families, social problems in rural boarding home families, and peer group socialization in dormitories. In short, the major factors causing student disturbance in schools away from home were not seriously present in the village high schools.

Achievement Gains in Basic Skills

Students in village ninth and tenth grade programs made respectable progress in basic skills. Normal progress, as measured by the State-Operated Schools' achievement tests (for academic progress), requires a gain of one to two points during the 5-month testing period. The 57 ninth graders tested gained 1.72 points and the 17 tenth graders gained 1.94 points on the composite test.

Breadth of Academic Program

The village high schools differed widely in the school programs they offered. Since little planning had occurred, the program depended primarily on the imagination of the individual teacher. In one village program we observed, the curriculum was quite poor. The teacher had attempted to set up an open classroom in which students worked on activities independently. However, he provided too little guidance, and students did not know what to do.

The Selawik village high school program, in contrast, provides an excellent illustration of how a broad curriculum can be offered in a village school. Selawik high school students set up and operated the Northern Lights Restaurant, the first business of its kind in the village. The students obtained a business loan from the school board. They rented the building and remodeled it. They used the profits to pay back the loan with interest, pay expenses, and build up the business. One student earned bookkeeping credit for keeping the restaurant books. The students learned about ordering supplies, prices, profit and loss, depreciation, and advertising.

Through establishing a village business Selawik students not only learned important new skills but also performed responsible roles which won approval from both village and western adults.

The Savoonga village high school program illustrates another way of expanding the curriculum and satisfying village students' desires to see the outside world while the students are based in a village high school. The program included a 2-week stay in Anchorage. Students lived the first week with an urban family and attended high school classes. For the second week, they lived on a university campus and attended classes with Native college students.

Teacher Morale and Evaluations of Village High Schools

The teachers at regional high schools were generally depressed and demoralized at the end of the school year because they knew their programs had failed their students. In contrast, the village teachers, in their letters to us, often evidenced high morale. They were frequently proud of the programs they had developed and believed these programs had succeeded. One village teacher wrote:

Togiak began its high school program on a small scale, employing two new secondary teachers and using existing facilities with some modifications. This allowed us to departmentalize through the seventh grades and to offer seventh through tenth graders a wide choice of subjects using a mini-course, trimester scheduling plan. In my opinion, the students were very happy with this arrangement and achieved as much or more here as they could have outside the village. There were few if any discipline problems, which I believe is a result of parental guidance and the secure feeling the boys and girls have when they are in their own village. Some students were skeptical about staying in the village since their brothers and sisters had gone away to school, but after local activities and events got started there was never any other discussion about it.

Another teacher wrote:

We have concrete evidence that neither the boarding home program nor regional high schools are successful for Sand Point students, whereas our experience over the past 2 years strongly suggests that local education can succeed. Somehow we must communicate this experience to the State-Operated School Board, the State Department of Education, and the Legislature. The school and the community are deeply involved in curriculum development. We envision a curriculum that will keep students in school by virtue of its intrinsic interest and relevance, that will prepare the terminal graduates to compete successfully in the local labor market, that will provide continuing students with the background and experience to make the transition to the world outside Sand Point, and that will involve the local community both in the planning and the actual implementation of the program.

Would Four-Year Village High Schools Be Adequate?

A major question in considering 4-year high schools in the village is whether or not a small village school could offer educational experiences which adequately prepared students for diverse adult demands. Many Native leaders and others are especially concerned about whether a village high school could prepare students adequately for college at a time when land claim developments are creating a great demand for highly educated Natives.

If poorly planned and inadequately funded, village high schools might indeed offer a very limited education except where unusual teachers organized imaginative programs. However, it is essential to keep in mind that, even if village high schools did offer a limited program, the education would probably not be very different from the actual education most village students now receive in large high schools away from home. Village students in urban high schools often end up in classes for slow learners or cannot follow the specialized courses in which they enroll. Village students in regional high schools often complain that they are not learning much because of the low academic standards.

If high school programs were well-planned and if educational funds were used for educational experiences rather than construction of elaborate high school facilities, village high schools might well provide an education that would increase a rural students success in college or employment. For example, early high school years should emphasize travel experiences which increase rural students' awareness of the range of opportunities available to them. Later high school years should be organized around transitional experiences to prepare the student for going away to college or employment.

Incorporating transitional experiences into the junior and senior years of village high schools to prepare students for individual adult roles would have far greater educational benefits than the commonly discussed alternative of sending village students to urban or regional high schools during these same years. As late entrants into the school, village students would have difficult adjustment problems. They would also suffer social and emotional problems when exposed to the negative influences of towns with high levels of social problems and to inappropriate living situations.

Program Possibilities for Village High Schools

Of the 105 village ninth graders in our study, 78 percent read at the sixth grade level or below. Academically, these students needed a concentrated language arts program, and this is exactly what every regional and urban high school studied finally developed for village ninth graders.

The core curriculum of village high school programs should be built around basic school skills. For example, one teacher should have special background in dealing with reading problems. Indeed, a good basic model for such a village high school program already exists in the Rural Transition Center in Anchorage. Here, a group of instructors are team-teaching basic skills in an informal personalized classroom.

To provide a wider range of courses, a program needs to be developed where itinerant teaching specialists offer concentrated mini-courses in such specialized areas as science. These teachers might be based in a regional resources and media center located at a community college. Community residents should also be used to expand the curriculum by teaching important local skills.

Travel Programs to Increase Awareness of Opportunities

Village eighth graders often want to go away to high school because they are curious about the outside world. Curiosity is also a major reason village students frequently transfer from school to school. A village high school program should offer travel programs to increase students' awareness of opportunities. Excellent models of such travel programs are presently available. The Craig High School program, for example, offers student exchange opportunities with other states. In the Dillingham Foreign Study Program, village students traveled abroad and then enrolled in university courses. At college, the students lived as a group with guidance provided by counselors. This program appears to have succeeded in increasing village students' interest in new opportunities and also increasing their success in college.2 Through these types of travel programs, village students can see what it is like outside the village without being placed in a position of continued inferiority, as presently occurs when village students attend classes with more academically prepared students in regional and urban high schools.

Such travel programs would have even greater value to students if the village high school students earned a part of the funds through community projects. A state "matching" grants program could be developed where students would write a proposal for a travel program, outline their own educational goals, and provide part of the funds. In a number of Indian secondary schools, working together for money to go on a trip has been a powerful way to create school spirit and strong peer group support for educational goals.

Senior Year Transitional Programs

Our follow-up studies of village high school graduates indicate that village students often experience serious difficulty in making a successful transition to college or to employment. All the supports of high school are suddenly taken away, and students are thrown on their own, often without the support of parental experience and guidance.

This problem could be alleviated if the senior year programs of village high schools were organized as transitional college or employment experiences. Students could enter college or employment while living together as a high school group with a counselor. Such a situation would give students guidance and emotional support in making a successful transition to adult roles. Village seniors interested in college, for example, could enroll in a pre-college program on Alaska campuses. Transitional occupational training and employment programs could be organized for high school seniors interested in particular occupations. Senior students who wished to remain in the village could become integrated into adult roles at home through working, for example, in the village corporations set up under the Land Claims Act of 1971, with funds perhaps provided by Neighborhood Youth Corps.

Extracurricular Activities to Develop Confidence and Responsibility

Teachers of village high school programs emphasized the importance of adult-sponsored extracurricular activities, first of all, to provide an alternative to boredom and drinking. In addition, research3 on small versus large high schools suggests that extracurricular activities in small high schools can have very important effects in developing self-confidence and a sense of social responsibility. Especially benefiting from small schools are marginal students (like village students) who are usually left out in large schools. Such activities in small high schools offer greater developmental benefits to students, in essence, because there are fewer students available to fill important roles. Thus, in small high schools, many students will have the opportunity to fill positions of responsibility and develop competence, confidence, and a sense of obligation to the group and its goals. In a large high school, only a few talented students will fill these roles and receive the important benefits. Such opportunities are especially important during adolescence, when students are trying to define their own abilities and their potential place in the world.

The greater benefits provided by extracurricular activities in smaller high schools are exemplified in a school play. The play may require a cast of 10 students. In a large high school of 1,000 students, only 1 percent of the students will receive a role in the play, develop their public speaking abilities, and have their self-esteem boosted through community applause. In a small high school of perhaps 20 students, 50 percent will play a part and receive such benefits. In the large high school, since there are so many students from which to select actors, only those with especially high dramatic abilities are likely to be chosen. In the small high school, however, those with little dramatic ability are likely to be chosen. While the quality of the play may be lower in the small high school, the benefits to students in terms of personal growth will be much greater.

Summary

Village high school programs are not only likely to reduce the high rate of dropout and serious social and emotional problems suffered by village students in high schools away from home. If carefully planned and if funds are spent on educational programs as well as facilities, village high schools could offer a program more appropriate to the academic and developmental needs of most village students and better prepare students for college or employment. Village high school programs could include a core curriculum supplemented by itinerant teaching specialists, travel opportunities, a senior year transition to work or college, and extracurricular activities designed to give students the experience in important, responsible roles.


Endnotes

1 Eskimo attitudes toward separation are discussed in Robert Kraus, "Eskimo Suicide." Paper read at the Meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 1973. Kraus suggests that the experience of family separation brought about by hospitalization for tuberculosis or through going away to boarding school can be a contributing factor to suicide among Eskimos.

2 We are in the process of preparing an evaluation report on the Dillingham Foreign Study Program. Since appropriate comparison groups are not available, it is difficult to make good statistical comparisons, but many pieces of evidence suggest its success.

3 This research is summarized in Big School-Small School: Studies of the Effects of High School Size Upon the Behavior and Experiences of Students. R.B. Barker (Ed.) University of Kansas, Midwest Psychological Field Station, 1962.

 

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