At least 20 distinct Native languages are spoken in Alaska, and every year, the population of speakers gets a little smaller. A Golovin senator now wants to reverse that trend by encouraging immersion language charter schools in the state.
Democrat Donny Olson introduced a bill on Friday that would create a special certification process for instructors of Native languages, so that it would be easier for them to teach in schools. He’s hoping to build on the success of legislation recognizing Alaska’s Native languages as official languages in their own right.
“There is a continued interest, a continued momentum of issues like this that are coming to the forefront,” says Olson.
While the bill would make it easier to set up immersion programs for any language, it makes specific reference to revitalizing endangered languages and providing an education consistent with indigenous cultures. The idea behind an immersion program is that students would be able to take all kinds of courses — like math and science — in a language other than English to help their fluency.
The charter schools could be set up using already existing resources, serving as alternative curricula in brick-and-mortar schools that are already up and running. Olson hopes that such schools could be established in rural areas, like the one he represents. His own parents spoke Inupiaq to him when he was a child, and he would like his children to have a chance to learn the language as well.
“The idea that they could do something like that — I think it could make the daddy proud,” says Olson.
Bethel already operates a Yup’ik immersion school. Foreign language programs exist in Southcentral including a Spanish program in Wasilla and a number in the Anchorage School District.