There's still a month before the local school year begins, but the Anchorage School District is starting a special project to narrow the academic gap between pre-kindergarten Alaska Native boys and their fellow students.
With Alaska Native boys performing the worst overall in the district, ASD officials are hoping the Project Ki'l Kindergarten Transition Camp will help change the way they approach school. The project is focused on the next crop of kindergarten students, who are quickly learning what education is all about.
As part of Project Ki'l -- which means "young boy" in Athabascan -- 40 Alaska Native boys will be exposed to a real school setting over the next three weeks. They'll learn basics like how to ride the bus, how to walk the halls, even how to act in the school lunch room.
Educators say the skills taught during the transition camp set up students socially and emotionally to learn in the classroom.
"A lot of kids, especially Alaska Native boys, when they come to kindergarten they are not prepared -- they don't know how to sit in a chair, they don't know how to listen in a story because they have never been exposed to it," said Amber K Stout, a Susitna Elementary kindergarten teacher working with the program.
"If a child is not comfortable in their setting, it really hinders a lot of learning abilities and capabilities," said Pre-K teacher Jason Carrillo, who also works for Cook Inlet Head Start. "Basically you're pre-exposing into an environment in kindergarten."
It's an environment that ASD officials say is needed to turn around how Alaska Native boys are performing in school compared to others.
"Alaska Native boys have the highest dropout rates," said project Ki'l manager Beverly Groskreutz. "Alaska Native boys have the highest suicide rates, Alaska Native boys have the lowest test scores."
Utilizing boy-friendly teaching strategies, Project Ki'l also uses the students' heritage and traditions to celebrate everyday accomplishments.
"Of course our ultimate goal is to get them to graduate from high school, but we want to recognize successes in their traditional ways so success in hunting, success in their culture," Groskreutz said.
"For these kids to come in and have these basic skills taught, and for them to get the chance to interact with other teachers and the other children, learn how to make friends -- those are skills they need, not just for school but for life," said Stout.
Project Ki'l is in its fifth year, and officials say they have seen improvements. School attendance with Alaska Native boys has gone up 10 percent and Standards-Based Assessment test scores for third and fifth graders have stayed consistent.
More information on the program is available on its website.
Contact Corey Allen-Young