A new English-Yup’ik preschool may soon open in Bethel

The Lower Kuskokwim School District is considering opening a dual-language preschool in Bethel in January 2020. (Courtesy Lower Kuskokwim School District)

Bethel parents may have another daycare option soon. This January, the Lower Kuskokwim School District is hoping to pilot a dual language preschool in Bethel. However, there are some major hurdles to be overcome before the district can move forward. 

Director of Elementary Christina Robbins says that LKSD found some extra money this year for some extra teachers, so they started talking about a Dual Language Enrichment, or DLE, preschool in Bethel.

“We’re definitely hopeful that this happens this spring,” Robbins said.

However, Robbins says that they still need to find a suitable location, transportation for students, and enough certified teachers. That last part is no small challenge, considering the money for this preschool came from unfilled teaching positions.

The Pledge of Allegiance, written in Yup’ik. (Photo courtesy of Sally Benedict)

Early Childhood Education Coordinator Kristin Henke said that if the new preschool does open in January, it would take students off the current waitlist. She said that there are currently 20 children on the waitlist for the four existing preschools in Bethel, none of which have DLE.

“And there may be more families interested if they know it’s dual language,” Henke added.

Once students reach kindergarten, the DLE model would mean that half the classes are taught in English and half in Yup’ik. 

“But three and four-year-olds learn through play,” Henke said.

In dual language preschools, Henke says that students practice pre-literacy skills with activities like word games in both languages.

“We value both of their languages equally,” Henke said.

Henke said that parents can reach out to LKSD to get on the waitlist for the DLE preschool pilot program. She says that the dstrict will know by next month if it will be able to open.

LKSD is also exploring additional Yup’ik classes for middle school. Director of Secondary Education Erin Schalk says that the district has a robust Yup’ik curriculum for its elementary and high schools, but less so for middle school.

“We recognize that there are some gaps,” Schalk said.

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The district has identified a need for conversational Yup’ik courses in middle school, and also for high school students who transfer from schools that don’t teach Yup’ik.  

Schalk says that they hope to offer the additional Yup’ik curriculum for middle and high school by the fall of 2022 or sooner.