Ayaprun Elitnaurvik expanding for 2022-23 school year.
The Alaska Department of Education & Early Development approved the expansion of the Ayaprun Elitnaurvik charter school to include 7th and 8th graders early this month (March 2022).
“Our school’s mission is language, but it’s also culture,” said Joshua Gill, principal of Ayaprun Elitnaurvik. “Students really enjoy learning about the culture of the region.”
Ayaprun Elitnaurvik is the only immersion school in Bethel and provides the opportunity for students to learn Yugtun. Yup’ik is the primary language of instruction in K-2 and 50% of the time in grades 3-8.
Clarence Daniel, LKSD Board Chair and the head of the Ayaprun Elitnaurvik Academic Policy Committee said that two more years of language immersion will be a benefit to the students’ overall retention of the language.
“When students are learning a language —and they’re immersed in one language and they go home to another — they don’t catch up on the other as fast. It takes time,” he said.
With language programming available in junior high at Bethel Regional High School, 7th and 8th graders weren’t originally included at Ayaprun Elitnaurvik until the school’s model could be proven as successful to parents and members of the community.
“Over the years, the program has proven itself and more people support it,” Daniel said.
With the news of expanding to junior high, he said he’s seen people sharing and liking the announcement on Facebook, congratulating the school, and saying it’s a wonderful thing.
“There’s support — both from the community and in the school,” he said.
Both Gill and Daniel made a point to explain the integral role of the parents and community for the success of students at Ayaprun Elitnaurvik, which will remain key in the students’ junior high years.
“I think that the power in our school is that it’s really parent driven. It’s parent initiated, its curriculum was helped to be translated by parents. It is truly a school partnership, not only with the district, but a partnership with the community and the parents that make Ayaprun special,” Gill said.
“We’re different. If they’re looking for something different, that opportunity is here,” he said.
Daniel points out the benefits of language immersion in the form of not only being bilingual, but performing well on state tests and higher overall IQs for students, as well as myriad cultural benefits that cannot be measured.
“Language is a part of culture, but there’s a lot of other cultural aspects that are included,” Daniel said, citing lessons at the school in things like fish care, preservation, and western and traditional sciences; blackfish traps; making ice fishing jigs; and learning about sea mammals and waterfowl.
“If there’s, say, a parent that grew up outside of the region and they came back but they never grew up participating in cultural activities like fish cutting and preparing and preserving the catch…then the kids could help teach their parents how to do it,” Daniel said.
Beginning next school year, Ayaprun Elitnaurvik’s current 6th grade class will continue learning these cultural practices, language immersion — and more in 7th and 8th grades for the first time — furthering their bilingual education before they head to BRHS for high school in fall of 2024.
This was originally published by the Lower Kuskokwim School District.