Figuring out how to navigate life after graduating high school is tough. But thanks to a recent grant from the Alaska Department of Education, the Calista Corporation has a plan to help students in three Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta school districts. They call their project Tengluni or “Take Wing,” which they hope will increase high school graduation rates and prepare students for life after high school by using Yup’ik values and curriculum.
Mark John is a Yup’ik Elder helping lead the project. He had just finished a workshop about Tengluni for the Elders and Youth Conference in Fairbanks earlier this month, when he took time to explain the program.
“We will target 11th graders, and we’ll take them into universities and training programs and expose them to that type of educational opportunities beyond high school,” John said.
The project is part of a collaboration between the Alaska Humanities Forum, the Kuspuk School District, the Lower Kuskokwim School District and the Yupiit School District. The three districts operate in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Tengluni is designed to help teach students how to budget money and apply for funding for school, and how to navigate city life.
John remembers his own experiences when he tried college.
“In 1974, when I graduated high school, they just brought us and it was a cultural shock. They didn’t, we weren’t, we weren’t helped much in the University of Alaska Fairbanks,” John said.
He says that student orientation, which was in place when he attended college, helped relieve some of the strangeness, but it was still not enough. Tengluni would help fill gaps in conventional student orientation, the most important of which is how to maintain the Yup’ik way of life, even while living far away from the Y-K Delta.
“We teach Yuuyaraq within this program. These are cultural teachings that were used in our culture, are used in our culture, but are still very effective in today’s world,” John said.
Yuuyaraq means “the way of being.”
The Tengluni project is well on its way. After kicking off at the Elders and Youth Conference during the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Fairbanks, the team will travel to the Y-K Delta in November and December to hold two-day seminars to recruit students.