Iḷisaġvik College’s Uqautchim Uglua, or ‘language nest’ program, celebrated important milestones in 2012. The school introduced an Iñupiaq Early Learning Associate of Arts degree to meet the college’s goal to increase the number of indigenous certified teachers on the North Slope. This degree offers a holistic approach designed to support Native students in their learning experiences, has a traditional Iñupiaq emphasis, and meets accreditation requirements.
A strong Iñupiaq studies component is incorporated into the degree with 12 required credit hours of Iñupiaq language, cultural and traditional arts. Students can choose from an education or business track. The degree will prepare students to open their own language nests, become educational paraprofessionals, or continue their education at a four-year institution to become a certified teacher. New education courses include Child Development, Introduction to Early Childhood Profession, Family and Community Partnerships, Teaching Children’s Health and Wellness, Language and Creative Expression, Practicum, and Small Business Planning for Child Care.
The first student cohort will be held during the spring 2013 semester as Uqautchim Uglua brings program students together during a brief residency at Iḷisaġvik College. Courses are offered via distance delivery to facilitate the participation of students living in the outlying villages, across Alaska, and the United States.
Uqautchim Uglua teacher Tuuqlak Diaz reads to the students in Iñupiaq.
An Iñupiaq language immersion nest and teacher training center (lab school) also opened at Ilisagvik College in November, 2012. The language nest serves as a teacher training lab school and observation site for students in the Iḷisaġvik College’s Iñupiaq Early Learning Associate of Arts degree. Practicum and internship opportunities are conducted in an Iñupiaq immersion early learning setting for twelve students ranging from birth to three years of age.
Uqautchim Uglua Learning Center (lab school/language nest) models the delivery of the North Slope Borough School District’s Iñupiaq Learning Framework in a preschool setting. By extending this curriculum to pre-school students and stressing the strengths of traditional Iñupiaq parenting, the North Slope’s youngest children will develop the cognitive, interpersonal, and motor skills they need to enter school developmentally ready for academic success. The program is starting with three-year olds. Younger age groups will be added as the curriculum is developed.
Students’ parents participate in a Parent Empowerment Group and will interview Elders to capture traditional parenting information. The information gleaned will be compiled and shared with our partnering institutions and language nests. Traditional parenting information will also inform education courses. Our program is working with the North Slope Borough School District in establishing goals and objectives associated with this important project.
After seeing the Alaska Cultural Standards, Martha Stackhouse, Teachers for the Arctic Coordinator, created examples of the standards at the college level for instructors as they integrate the Inupiaq culture into their classrooms.
Progress has been made embedding the Iñupiaq culture and values into the Iñupiaq Early Learning AA program. The Culture-Based Curriculum Coordinator, Robert Suvlu, has been working to infuse culture across the curriculum and develop teaching techniques for culture-based instruction designed to support students enrolled in the Iñupiaq Early Learning AA program.
Iḷisaġvik College President Pearl Brower said, “Iḷisaġvik College is Alaska’s Only Tribal College. Part of our mission is to perpetuate our Iñupiaq culture, language, values, and traditions. The creation of the Iñupiaq Early Learning Degree and the start of the language nest movement on the North Slope falls directly into the mission of the college and need for our support to encourage these programs for the future of our region’s self-sustainability and local control. I am excited to embark on these new endeavors.”
An overarching goal is to increase the number of Iñupiat teachers on the North Slope through a bachelor of education degree articulated with a partner Indigenous teacher training program. The degree program is moving the college one step closer to an articulated agreement with a four-year institution to provide students with a seamless transition.
Uqautchim Uglua Interim Program Director Devin Bates said, “Uqautchim Uglua is one central embodiment of a serious, consolidated and sustained effort by the people, communities and entities of the North Slope to indigenize regional education systems, increase the number of state-certified Iñupiaq teachers on the North Slope, address issues pertaining to child care, and attack Native language and culture degradation concerns head on. It is a program that is infused and defined by the very same excitement and optimism its mission helps to bring to the North Slope community. Though it is a young program, we are already seeing markedly positive results, and while a great deal to be done lies ahead of us, we can clearly see that we have just the tools we need to continue moving forward. It is one of the great honors and privileges of my life to be a part of what we are doing here.”
The project is supported by a grant from the American Indian College Fund’s Wakanjea Sacred Little Ones project funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Alaska Native Education Program (State of Alaska), the North Slope Borough’s Mayor Office, and Ilisagvik College.