With reading and writing close behind, Juneau’s school board approves spoken Lingít teaching standards

A woman in a dress and face masks paints a black and white piece of art.
Yeeskanaalx Tláa, cultural specialist at Sayeik Gastineau Community School puts the finishing touches on an eagle formline background she made for students who are attending in-person classes on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Juneau’s board of education has approved new oral narrative standards for its Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy program. 

These are the first oral narrative standards developed for the Lingít language to be taught to school children.

The literacy program is available to kindergartners through fifth graders in the Juneau School District. It requires an application and acceptance through a lottery process.

The school district has been working with community partners like Sealaska Heritage Institute, the Douglas Indian Association, and Goldbelt Heritage Foundation to foster the revitalization of Lingít language.

Before the school board’s vote last week, Director of Teaching and Learning Support Ted Wilson said the new standards were an important step in a long journey.

“We also have representatives from preschools and from UAS so that we can talk about what the curriculum looks like all the way through from when you’re tiny until you are in college,” Wilson said.

He said they’d like to see the program expand to other grade levels, but aren’t sure when that would be possible, considering they’d need to develop a number of fluent speakers who can teach it in order to do that.

The final reading of the standards during the school board meeting prompted several emotional responses from the public and board members, including new member Amber Frommherz. “I’m Diné from Arizona and this is a gift that you are presenting to probably many families who are not able to share it as much as we want to,” Frommherz said. “I would love to teach my children our language, but I was not taught my language.”

Paul Marks also spoke at the meeting, thanking the board, first in Lingít.

“I just want to say thank you to all those that are working toward a standard of our people to be taught to our children,” Marks said. “Our elders are the ones who taught us and they taught us so that we would teach our children.”

The district and its partners are working on developing a reading and writing curriculum for the program.

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