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Education cuts hurt rural Alaska

  • Author: Lillian Kiunya
    | Opinion
  • Updated: March 5
  • Published March 5

Wind turbines at Kwigillingok, May 13, 2016. (ADN Archive)

The proposed funding cut from Alaska’s education budget this year, I feel, is a bad idea! As an Alaska resident who has supported the education of our children in our communities, I am speaking up in opposition to this.

I am a resident and tribal member of Kwigillingok, I also work at our local school. I am a mother and grandmother, as I raised four children and a grandson who graduated from our school and now have five grandchildren attending school.

I have seen the school grow from the first day it opened back in 1976. Back then, it was one classroom with limited educational material. By 1980, a new school was constructed and just recently, our school was again renovated to add more classrooms and a full-size gym, up from a half-court gym.

My education history started in Kwigillingok in the old Bureau of Indian Affair days. Everything was taught in English, and I did not comprehend whatever was taught from my earliest entry to school until later in the school years. I am lucky I was never whipped for speaking my language back in the day, although I heard some stories that our elders were.

Today, with the dual language that is integrated in the entry of students in our school, they are learning both English and Yugtun, and they are very fortunate.

After I finished my elementary education in Kwigillingok before there was any high school built in our community, I overheard my parents discussing where they would send me, as they had sent my three older siblings to boarding schools. One was sent out of state, and two others were sent to a northern school up in Unalakleet with other local students.

In the end, I ended up going to Bethel Regional High School. I stayed at the dorm the first year.

The experience for me the first year was good, but my parents were never really involved with my schooling, and my dorm parents were never really involved either. Even when my grades were failing, no one ever came to me to address them, so I felt like I got away with school even when I was failing my classes.

The second year, my parents sent me to Bethel again, but this time I stayed with my aunt and uncle. It was a home away from home for me, because they were involved as my parents were, which was very encouraging. Like my parents, they counseled, encouraged and disciplined me while I was there.

By my junior year in the fall of 1976, the local high school opened in an old building that once was a community hall. It was a one-room building with limited classroom material. I enrolled in it, but eventually dropped out because it was so poorly supplied with educational material compared to the school I went to in Bethel.

Anyhow, I applied for a job and got a job, which allowed me to pursue my GED. My secondary education was very different from my older siblings, and I am sure it is different for all those who had to start their secondary education from scratch during those early years.

Through the years, there have been numerous students who have completed their secondary education in Kwigillingok, and there are also parents who chose to send their children to attend high school outside of Kwigillingok. They are now leading productive lives where they are today. I must tell you that we have more Yupik pilots from our region who are experienced to our weather and terrain because these pilots were raised in small communities and did not have to leave home to go to high school.

The reason I am so against the proposed cut by the present Alaska governor is because the state has invested into education for rural communities and have made advances so much since the schools were first built in rural Alaska.

The students do not have to leave their community to attend secondary education. They stay connected to their community, their language, their way of life, culture, tradition, family unit, extended families and, most important, their parents are involved and supporting them throughout their education.

I strongly believe that any education facility in Alaska, whether in rural, hub, or urban communities should have equal education funding, because what we have today in these facilities are future leaders, governors, law makers, representatives, teachers, social workers, receptionists, carpenters, plumbers, pilots, corporate leaders and so many more who will be workforce representatives of the people from various parts of Alaska.

Our school in Kwigillingok, like any rural community school, has limited academic course offerings throughout the school seasons, because some subject areas for classes are not available in a school year. This leaves some students to wait until the next school year to finish up the requirements for graduation.

With technology advances today, some students take online classes to graduate on time. I feel with the budget cuts, these will not be available for some of our students who have fallen behind.

The budget cuts could also affect the staffing and support the students receive during their school year. It could also affect their extra-curricular activities that have been boosters to help students succeed.

The education cut will have great impacts in rural Alaska, which the state has invested in over the years in our small schools. We have had positive impacts and positive results. Making an enormous cut to the education system will take away from our future leaders, representatives who will be the support and voice for rural Alaska. I ask Gov. Mike Dunleavy to please not make any cuts.

I am sure I sound like I am rambling on and on and may not make sense, but I just want to put in my two cents, and oh, by golly — we have federal and state test standards to meet academically, which will also be impacted!

Quyana for hearing me out.

Lillian Kiunya lives in Kwigillingok, near the mouth of the Kuskokwim River on the Bering Sea coast.

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