Nome public schools took the first step toward recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day at a school board work session last week. That’s when Superintendent Shawn Arnold proposed a resolution aimed at adding the holiday to the district’s official calendar.
Observed on the second Monday in October, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an alternative to Columbus Day — one that celebrates Native history and culture instead of the European explorer, whose voyages enslaved and killed many indigenous people.
While Nome Schools does not acknowledge Columbus Day, Arnold said the district needs to go one step further.
“I was pleased that we didn’t recognize Columbus Day as a school district,” said Arnold. “But then why didn’t we recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day? That was something we needed to do.”
This year, Anvil City Science Academy did celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but it was the only Nome school to do so. Nome-Beltz Jr/Sr High School and Nome Elementary School recognized a general Heritage Day.
But several on the board — and in the audience — argued that the holiday should be specific to Native peoples, especially with 80 percent of Nome students identifying as Alaska Native or having Alaska Native heritage.
During public comments, five people expressed their support for the resolution, including representatives from Kawerak, Nome’s Northwest Campus, and the Maniilaq Association. Lisa Ellanna is the Wellness Director at Maniilaq, and she said recognizing the holiday could have a powerful impact on Alaska Native students.
“A lot of the research shows us that the number one protective factor to prevent suicide in youth is a strong cultural identity,” said Ellanna. “And if we recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day, that would be one step towards strengthening and validating who they are as Alaska Native people.”
Public commenters also argued that more cultural recognition leads to better grades and a better sense of community for all students.
The resolution — which would recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day at all Nome schools — will go to the board for approval at their next meeting. If approved, Nome will become the second school district in Alaska to formally recognize the holiday.
The board also discussed state testing at their recent work session, having finally received district results from the Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP). Students took the new standardized test for the first time last spring, but scores were delayed as the Alaska Department of Education discussed how to release the largely disappointing data.
The majority of students statewide failed to earn proficient scores, and Arnold said Nome’s results were on par.
“Overall, in comparison with the state, it wasn’t that bad,” said Arnold. “We do trail the state in some of the grade levels.”
Arnold said the low scores are not unexpected, given the new state instructional standards and the more rigorous testing, both implemented just last year.
To get over the learning curve, Nome Schools are adopting instructional materials better aligned with the new standards and providing more professional development for teachers. In the meantime, Arnold said the district will use a variety of assessment methods to get the big picture on student performance.
The school board will convene again for a regular meeting on Nov. 10.