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Teachers Present on New Zealand’s Indigenous Immersion Schools at NPS Board Meeting

a woman standing at a podium smiles, with three people standing behind her and 2 sitting

Three Nome Public Schools teachers who recently visited indigenous immersion schools in New Zealand gave a presentation at Tuesday night’s regular School Board meeting.

Michael Hoyt, Maddy Alvanna-Stimpfle, and Annie Olanna Conger shared what they learned about Maori immersion schools, and how they hope to apply that knowledge to NPS.

Olanna Conger opened the presentation.

[Speaking in Inupiaq]
“I spoke in Inupiaq because when we went to New Zealand the elders and the people welcoming us spoke in their language, and then it was our turn. We didn’t understand a word they were saying, but we knew from their tone of voices that they were honored to have us there.”

Olanna Conger went on to present images and stories of the different schools the teachers visited during their stay.

One experience in particular moved Maddy Alvanna-Stimpfle.

“So, ‘moana’ in Maori means ‘ocean.’ So they spend a lot of time around the moana, and they learn how to be safe on the moana, and they also learn how to take care of their moana. And I thought that was so beautiful, because the only reason why all of our native students are here is because of the knowledge our ancestors have of the ocean. And that’s something we don’t teach our kids. And that’s something that we should be teaching our kids…”

The teachers emphasized to the board the importance of making indigenous language learning a priority at all Nome public schools. According to the teachers, that could look like a language club, an Inupiaq/Yupik word of the day, and offering Inupiaq and Yupik spelling bees, to name a few. Alvanna-Stimpfle says another big goal down the line is to start an Inupiaq immersion preschool.

Following the presentation, board member Barb Amarok said she agrees that there should be more of a bridge between traditional cultural knowledge and formal education at NPS. She says working on supportive infrastructure to aid that bridge should be a priority.

In a separate report by the Superintendent, Jamie Burgess shared that she learned about Kotzebue’s pre-kindergarten and kindergarten Inupiaq immersion school during a visit to the community last week.

“I learned a lot about some pitfalls, struggles, and hopefully, some ways we can be successful as well. So we’re going to continue to work on seeing what we can do here in Nome.”

Other items of business included the approval by the school board of the new health insurance contract, which is with Premera Blue Cross / Blue Shield. According to Superintendent Burgess, the selected plan “reduces the risk of excessive costs both to the district and to the employees.”

Updates to language in Board Policy making it more “locally relevant” were also approved. In addition, the board approved temporary hiring authority for the Superintendent to recruit teachers for the remaining 4 positions needing to be filled at NPS. Burgess will be going on a trip to a job fair early next month.

The meeting took an emotional turn as longtime NBHS principal John Berkeley bid farewell to NPS. He has been principal since January of 2016.

“The first thing I did in the high school is I found the freshmen… because you have to make sure that these freshmen from January 2016 going forward have one principal… because up until that point there were a myriad of principals at Nome-Beltz. So I’m very proud to say that next Wednesday, the class of 2019, those freshmen, will be graduating… it’s not only my last graduation with Nome Public Schools, but it’s a group that I’ve had my eye on for quite some time. And so I just want to say thank you again to all the staff, all the students, the families in the community of Nome for 15 great years.”

The Nome School Board will next convene at its final regular meeting of the school year on June 18.

Image at top: Annie Olanna Conger presents to the Nome School Board on the Cultural Equity Committee’s New Zealand trip at the board meeting on May 14, 2019. Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.