I must limit my scope seriously on this assignment, as I am no place to propose school reform for the State of Alaska. Rather I will focus on the source of my most recent experience: Haines, AK, and consulting with the Chilkoot Indian Association. Similarly, I am going to focus on elements that I have knowledge and expertise. James W. Kushman in his paper “A Study of Community Engagement and Educational Reform in Rural Alaska” identifies four factors important to reform:
- shared decision making, or the extent to which community members (parents, elders, and others) have greater influence and decision-making power in educational matters
- integration of culture and language, or the extent to which Native language, culture, ways of knowing, and a community’s sense of place are woven into daily curriculum and instruction
- parent/elder involvement in educating children, or the extent to which parents, elders, and others have a strong presence and visibility in the school and participate in their children’s education at home
- partnership activities, or positive examples of the school and community working together to share responsibility for student success
Two of these, shared decision-making, and partnership activities are topics that I will focus on in the following discussion. Another key text in the following discussion will be the Guide to Implementing the Alaska Cultural Standards for Educators. This document focuses on assessing teachers and schools in their attempts to build culturally relevant curriculum. Said differently it is on the outside looking in and this is the same perspective I have as a non-native, consultant, from away. I suspect that what I am looking for is less school reform and instead something more like social reform. So part of what I am getting around to is that responsibility for accomplishing the AK Guidelines is borne by more people than just the classroom teacher.
Standard A: Culturally-responsive educators incorporate local ways of knowing and teaching in their work.
Standard B: Culturally-responsive educators use the local environment and community resources on a regular basis to link what they are teaching to the everyday lives of the students.
Standard C: Culturally-responsive educators participate in community events and activities in appropriate and supportive ways.
Standard D: Culturally-responsive educators work closely with parents to achieve a high level of complementary educational expectations between home and school.
Standard E: Culturally-responsive educators recognize the full educational potential of each student and provide the challenges necessary for each of them to achieve that potential.
Each step of these guidelines progressively and increasingly blurs the boundaries between town and gown. Perhaps “home” itself antagonizes the traditional boundaries most intensely. Where does “home” start and stop? Probably it could be said to include a church, perhaps medical practitioners, and social services. If the boundaries of home are in question then where does family start and stop? Certainly, the Native community in Haines answers that question differently than the dominant culture. Likewise, where does local community start and stop? Does this only include social programs or can it include ones emphasizing the culture and the arts? On the other hand, does it include business owners as well? Finally, do we make some people sitting at the table wear several hats? Therefore, a parent is that and a business owner; an educator is both teacher and community organizer.
In my last paper, I speculated that between school/library/tribal government there existed, in Haines, a place to begin to do this work. I think that a tribal government has a leadership role in opening up these conversations in rural Alaska communities. The Dragon Fly program offers a case study of the issues I aim to address here: shared decision-making and partnership activities. A Google search resulted in the text of the 2009 IMLS grant and the document Museums and Libraries Engaging America’s Youth (pages 115-118) which appears to be some of the of the 2003 grant text augmented with interviews (this mentions a 2001 round of funding as well, alas I was unable to find that document). From the library website, we also see two key stakeholders the Library and the Chilkoot Indian Association. In particular, Greg Stuckey CIA’s Tribal Administrator at the time and Dan Coleman then Director of Haines Public Library at the time were the original people behind the program. Linda Moyer was the Library education coordinator at that point as well, and Warren Johnson IT consultant for CIA is among the original participants. From the library website, we learn that the initial objective of the grant was to focus on:
Tech-savvy young people from ages 11 to 21 are the teachers, sharing their computer skills with others by becoming mentors. They learn how to use the library’s technology and resources, develop materials and techniques to teach concepts and skills, do community outreach, and work one-on-one with a wide variety of people.
The ambiguity of the roles is immediately striking a young person becomes the teacher. It is no stretch to imagine an Elder coming to the library to learn how to use e-mail or to set up a Facebook page and being coached by a young person. Perhaps nothing comes of it, or maybe a friendship and the exchange of cultural knowledge results. Out of this, we see the importance of the library in the community as a site of learning and socialization.
As the project marked successes and grew, there seems to see a broadening of mission first the project focused on information technology and on training young people to be trainers themselves. From the library website, we learn:
The Dragonfly Project is a partnership program with the Chilkoot Indian Association. Originally funded by an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant the project focuses on helping individuals gain skills related to using technology. The program is multi-faceted and continues to grow and evolve.
First, I detect some ambiguity in the term “technology, ” and that needs teasing out. Certainly, they refer to information technology, but they also refer to “technology” in a broader way, “the art, skill, and cunning of hand” that we see in their pole carving and dugout canoe projects. This is important in part because it points a critical eye towards the DOE Technology Standards, which focus only in information technology (computers, and mobile devices for examples) and misses broader reflections on a variety of technology relevant to daily life for all Alaskans. Here, I am thinking about transportation, navigation, food gathering and much more. I am also thinking about the ethics of appropriate technology (a compass and a solid body of knowledge may trump a GPS in a particular moment). This playfulness between notions of technology is less apparent in the language of the 2003 round of funding however, the 2009 grant freely treads in this ambiguous space:
The project will create two films, each documenting and preserving an elder’s knowledge, experience, and practices in a traditional life skill. Another key component of our proposed project is inviting partner organizations to share information about topics as renewable energy sources, recycling, barter of goods and services, nutritional value of local foods, and garden plants and techniques appropriate for our climate…. We will provide technology programs in an informal setting, partner with the schools to develop lifelong reading skills, and bring the community together for forums and panel discussions on topics that impact daily lives.
From the 2009 IMLS grant, we find a nice summary about the community, geography, demographics and economics. Haines is remote, with a small population (3,000 or so); Natives comprise 15.6% of that. The unemployment rate is nearly double the state average of 9.3% and 1/3 of the Native households report annual incomes of less than $20,000. We also learn that the library is a focal point in the community and is widely valued and appreciated within the community. In the MLEAY 2003 report we learn about some of the market research that Chilkoot Indian Association had done in preparation for strategic planning:
In 2000, we developed a strategic plan using a written questionnaire asking members to rank priorities. In 2005 the McDowell Group conducted a telephone survey that included 137 tribal households capturing 183 tribal members. Computer skills were identified as needed by 20% of respondents, by far the highest percentage for any single skill category. An overwhelming 62% of survey respondents wanted to develop technology literacy and other job-related skills to help them find employment or earn more. Members are very interested in improving opportunities and program availability for Chilkoot Indian youth. Staff and Council revised the Strategic Goals according to survey results…. The public input gathered in planning sessions indicated a strong interest in partnering in a variety of ways to meet tribal and community needs. An important aspect of our quality of life in this remote rural area is a well-staffed library facility that offers needed and valued services and programs in a culturally responsive manner…. Our five-year plan enables us to identify library programming goals to meet a range of documented tribal needs through cultural programming.
Out of this research grew the original 2001 project funding request. And of this: “Greg Stuckey, Tribal
Administrator for the Chilkoot Indian Association said the Dragonfly program is “the most successful thing I’ve been a part of.” This accordingly explains 2003, and 2009 rounds of funding and the broadening of scope and methods we see suggested on the library website. The MLEAY 2003 report does a nice job capturing some voices celebrating the success of this project. I think it is important for our purposes to explore these because they offer some insight into shared decision-making and partner associations in creating this kind of programming.
So the question turns now to how was this success achieved? Again, I am looking at Haines, and the Dragon Fly Project from a distance, therefore, many details are unclear. However, based on the evidence available to me I have some questions about who was at the table originally and as the project unfolds into the future who will come to the table. First, in all of our curriculum readings, we hear about engaging with parents. Alas, I do not see parents clearly in this project. For me, this raises some alerts. First, Haines is a multi-cultural community, and I can easily imagine kids from ethnic and dominant culture having an interest in participating. It seems unsafe to assume that these parents share values and assumptions. Second, as we know from Robert Putnam’s work in “Bowling Alone,” and “Better Together” and Charles Murray’s books “Coming Apart,” and “Losing Ground,” civic engagement and social capital are low and dropping in American society for Americas’ working class (this linked video offers a nice summary of their work). In my work as a Boy Scout leader, I saw this first hand. Many parents do not understand their shared responsibility for creating and continuing these kinds of programs and projects. Moreover, class expectations regarding participation in such programs differ widely – this too was clearly visible in Scouting, sports, and other extra-curricular activities. Rather, like much else in our consumer based experience, we imagine that we contribute some money, drop the kids off and pick them up and some good is done. Hence, parent involvement is at once nearly impossible to recruit and second a real obligation to grapple with as projects like the Dragon Fly Project offer us a way to provide adult-education on civic engagement and social capital for parents – and we miss opportunities for community renewal if we overlook this.
There are adult participants we see them pictured on the website, yet we do not have any details about their place in the program. However, we do know that Chilkoot Indian Association has a Youth program coordinator and the library has an education program coordinator. From the 2003 grant, we learn more about the adult energy the project needed for a successful startup:
Throughout the Haines community, mentors responded to the needs of business owners and professionals. Lynn Canal Counseling Services is a case in point of how the Dragonfly Project served the community by engaging more than one level of a business. Lisa Carter recalls “a major collaboration” they worked on with Dragonfly staff and mentors to support women doing artwork in her art therapy group. “The women wanted to publish a holiday journal with their artwork. I contacted Linda [Moyer] and she agreed to let us use the library scanner and provide a tutorial in the computer program we needed. Printing the Journal in color on their color printer made producing the journal affordable.” For the business itself, Dragonfly staff helped with technology issues as they came up. As a small, grant-funded agency with little technology, Warren Johnson, Dragonfly Technical Coordinator, acted as a technical consultant for the agency. Lisa recalled, “We had a grant for new computers and he spent some time with the office manager to help figure out what to get. Other times something would go wrong so we’d call over to the library and they were always nice about helping us.”
Here we also glimpse the cross-pollination where other community members become partners and supporters in an organic and natural way. In the 2009 grant, we see clear self-consciousness of relationships and partnerships that open up because of this funding.
Goal 4 – Objective 3: Maintain and nurture partnerships that will enhance this project: Examples: Friends of the Library, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, Haines Friends of Recycling, the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center, the Alaska Arts Confluence, (ANB/ANS), the Rasmuson Foundation, local Master Gardners, Haines Energy Commission, and Lynn Canal Conservation….
Therefore, this offers us a brief and incomplete summary of a very productive project. In what follows, I will first explore issues of shared decision-making and partnership activities. Then turn to some reflection on how this project represents a journey up the other side of the mountain of culture/community/curriculum. This journey originated in the community and grew towards other organizations including schools. The Haines I recall was a politically conflicted community. People were acutely aware of numerous fault lines dividing the community. Alas, most of the occasions for addressing these divides only served to etch them deeper. I wonder if parental involvement in a facilitated conversation that follows the guidelines offered by the AK Cultural Standards guide might be a place to practice a different kind of engagement and an opportunity to practice building bridges. Starting from a point of agreement: our children share a need for a facility with information technology and our kids share a need for hands-on practical learning opportunities – from this what kind of consensus can be achieved? It seems impractical to hope for a sea change in the local community, but many small incremental changes are far more likely and achievable – and we miss opportunities for community renewal if we overlook this.
Business participation in schools has likewise been a conflicted discussion. Some businesses seem to be acceptable, Apple computers, yearbook and class ring providers, as well as companies that specialize in fundraising. Some businesses or business practices and products are controversial, advertising, McDonald’s or soft drink vendors competing with the school lunch programs, for examples. Nevertheless, the Dragon Fly Project is not a school and that opens up both opportunities for fund raising and for a conversation with business leaders that perhaps would not happen in the academic context. One significant threat to Haines is brain drain as the communities’ young people head off to college, military service, or just seek employment. Earlier I mentioned two successful Haines businesses that might be recruited to join the conversation Bear Star Web Design and Kingfisher Consulting. Indeed, in the example above about adults involved with the program, we find Warren Johnson mentioned he is the principal of Kingfisher Consulting. These two companies show that it is possible to create successful information technology businesses in Haines and simply being exposed to that possibility creates an opportunity for an alternative to simply leaving town. Going beyond that and having these owners speak to the skills they see needed in the industry reinforces the goals of the project but also potentially enriches them. Reaching back to the AK guidelines setting the expectations for the discussion upfront goes a long way in establishing trust. Approaching the business owners and inviting them to the table, saying: “This conversation is not about fundraising, that conversation may happen, but not in this situation, this conversation is about curriculum and about role modeling information technology business success to young people in our community with hopes of slowing our brain drain.” What a business leader hears in this is something like this: “I am not being asked for money; hence, I am not being offered a controlling interest. This is a chance to gain prestige in the community through visibility and credibility and this is an opportunity to market my services, though subtly, and there may be a multiplier effect where the local economy grows hence I do too.” Their involvement hinges on how they value the “in kind” transaction.
Turning to the schools as an additional voice in the conversation, I have no personal insight in the Haines schools, so what follows is speculative. I suspect that they are feeling the second pressure of both the NCLB standards and the Alaska Cultural Standards Guidelines pulled in two directions. Also, the tense local politics may have them in a defensive posture since schools are expensive and easy to flog publicly. Given that, whether they would even take a seat at the table is in question in my mind. Probably, my approach would be very informal and grassroots initially. My aim would be to learn the landscape and the players. Not only who has authority but who is influential as well and I would try to understand potential benefits and costs for the schools. On the one hand, it makes sense that kids participating in the Dragon Fly project receive academic credit for their work both regarding information technology but also regarding the culturally relevant learning. Indeed, from the 2003 text, we learn “Mike also received high school work-experience credit for his Dragonfly participation.” On the other, this may be an incremental accomplishment rather than something done all at once. I can easily imagine identifying a single project champion on the school staff and building the relationship and progress on that. However, if the doors open and principal’s and board members resonate with creating a connection, I would not hesitate to make that move.
There may be other stakeholders in the community that should be in on the shared decision-making. At a distance, I cannot know who those are, however, working the project or consulting on it keeping eyes open for such potential stakeholders would be a recurrent theme for me this project already has legs and is running so this discussion is about growth and sustaining success.
Turning to partnership activities, which in a sense we have all along been talking about but only implicitly, the partnership is about several shared features, shared the cost, control, and profit. First, gain, in this case, is intangible, learning, teaching, good will, credibility, cultural preservation and transmission, creating shared cultural and community values. As such, the value of the project can be measured and should be but not regarding dollars. Rather, we are talking about social capital predominately in this case study. The World Bank website offers an interesting summary of this particular question. Recurrent themes are surround improved, trust, and participation along with economic benefits that result from the social network. They offer a page devoted to tools measuring social capital as well.
Because I see this from a distance, I contacted some involved parties in Haines. Most successful was a phone conversation with Jessie Morgan, the Education Coordinator at the Haines Public Library, and an alumna of the Dragon Fly project herself. It was interesting to hear about the positive and significant impact that the role reversal of young people becoming teachers had on self-esteem and on building community – relations between younger and older persons that might not otherwise have occurred. We also talked about the connections between the program and the local schools. Indeed, one aspect of this was receiving academic credit for “community service.” However, Jessie also talked about the current work of the project and one aspect of that involved working with the Klukwan library and schools to gather data to inform the project. Klukwan is a nearby community, home of the Chilkat Indian Village. In particular, video cameras were used to collect place name data and stories or information about places. Along with the native community, watershed lobbyist and government conservation officers were involved in these conversations creating multi-dimensional learning opportunities. Jessie was also able to clarify for me the relationship between the information technology and the traditional technologies portrayed in the videos linked on the library website. This is actually an intersection between two programs. The Chilkoot Indian Association offers a program for troubled youth one aspect of which is canoe construction project. The plans came together at the need for the Dragon Fly Project to create videos as a grant goal. Jessie indicated that one young person who worked on the video went to college and earned a degree in film-making, just recently graduating. The canoe itself will be paddled to a large cultural event, and one aspect of participation is sobriety another kind, yet still significant, success for those young people. Because the Dragon Fly Project is involved in another round of grant, funding the future of the program was harder to discuss. However, Jessie and I agreed that the questions I was asking were the right questions and issues they were addressing in the latest grant proposal. An interesting aspect of this phone conversation was that before it I was theorizing in a vacuum. However, after our chat, I was able to review my notes and see that many of my “what if” scenarios either were accounted for or were being built into the future iterations of the project. In summary, then we see that many of the criteria for successful school-based initiatives reviewed in the readings for this course and successfully addressed in the Dragon Fly Project, yet the effort was driven not by schools, but by tribal government and public library. I think this aleatory space between culture, community, and curriculum has to be accessed in a variety of ways, school initiatives are very important, but so also are other approaches. The success of the Dragon Fly project is proof in part. However, one motivation for me to explore the Dragon Fly Project more genuinely came from reading Jim Vait’s essay in Lessons Taught Lessons Learned, Vol. 1, and “Obstacles to a Community-Based Curriculum”. His closing paragraph in particular:
This project was too large to undertake without related experience. I am not prepared to facilitate the restructuring of an entire education system. I have experienced some positive results with projects such as the yearbook and the ongoing project of the school newspaper. However, these have been school-centered rather than village-centered activities. I believe that for starting a more community-centered teaching/learning program, it may be appropriate to expand smaller and/or existing projects to include village activities.
Vait offers a large and real assessment of the frailty of focusing solely on schools and teachers as the source of innovation and energy in these kinds of initiatives.
A teacher, particularly one young in the career, is awkwardly placed to take on this role of community leadership. This is not to say they should not be at the table or that schools are not among the partners. Rather, those schools as a solution in curriculum, community, culture collaboration are one possible run up on the problem. Alaska has some interesting resources available through Tribal Governments, the ANB/ANS, numerous non-profit social and cultural programs, and many state and federal funding sources. In the task of community building and culture preservation, I would argue that everyone has a stake and everyone has a role. In the particularities of examining the Dragon Fly Project as a case study through the particular lenses of shared-decision making and partnerships from Kushman, we see a way to approach the issues of curriculum, culture, and community from the community side. Not as a replacement of these initiatives coming from the school side but as a complement to these initiatives and one just as important since it opens up opportunities to develop leadership in adults, adults outside of schools. I think back to Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” and our loss of social capital and loss of self-consciousness of the community as something we construct together each of us benefiting from both the process and the outcome. We realize an opportunity to remediate ourselves, all of us, as community leaders, teachers, and participants in our traditions, when we engage in shared decision-making and partnerships when we participate in community building enterprises.