ANSEP sets plan for more native teachers

Feb 17, 2015

Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program plans to place a math or science teacher in every rural village in the state within the next 10 years.

The Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program is seeking to address educational issues in rural Alaska communities and villages. ANSEP plans on placing a native math or science teacher in every village in the state.

Herb Schroeder is a professor of engineering at University of Alaska Fairbanks and founder of Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program. He said he started ANSEP because many of the native students were not ready socially or academically to study science, technology, engineering, or math, otherwise known as the STEM subjects.

“Now we’ve identified one of the problems with that is that there is a lack of qualified STEM teachers in rural communities,” said Schroeder.

So ANSEP now has a plan to place a qualified Alaska native in every village in the state to teach STEM classes. ANSEP has been helping natives to study and get jobs in STEM related fields for 20 years.

“So the pipeline is already build all we need to do is provide the opportunity for some of those students to go back to the villages to teach,” said Schroeder.

Jessica Hunt is one such student. She was part of ANSEP during college and now teaches math at Sheldon Point School in Nunam Iqua. She says nothing can be as effective as a native teacher in rural communities.

“If somebody is in a classroom telling you want to need to know to live your life and they haven’t been a part of the community, and they don’t know what it is like outside the academic life outside the village they’re not going to get as much respect,” said Hunt.

Hunt added that it can take years for any teacher to build up the trust needed for students to really listen.

“If you don’t get past that, then they’re not going to hear a word that you say. But if you’re already past a lot of that just by being from here," said Hunt. "Boy, what could we do with our students? What could we do with our community? How much interest we could have from our own youth to better our community?”

According to a recent study by the UAA Center for Education Policy Research, about 80 percent of rural students are Alaska Native, but fewer than 5 percent of licensed teachers working in the state are Alaska Native.

Herb Schroeder plans to have a native STEM teacher, like Hunt, in all 400 of Alaska’s villages within 10 years.

“This is an achievable goal for us and we’re going to solve a problem that’s been here before statehood. And it’s going to transform education in those communities where we place the teachers,” said Schroeder.

So far, the program has placed 3 native teachers. Only 397 more to go. 

"We’re going to get there," said Schroeder. "This is something that needs to be done. And we’re not going to let anything stop us.”

Teacher Jessica Hunt said students in rural villages need teachers who have lifelong investments in the success of their communities. ANSEP plans to accomplish that, one village at a time.

Reach Matt Martin at matt@kdlg.org or 907.842.2200