Groundbreaking Tlingit School Program expands to eighth grade

    Photo credit to Jasz Garrett

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - A groundbreaking Tlingit elementary school program established by Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) and the Juneau School District (JSD) in 2000 is expanding to eighth grade, welcoming a full-time, interim principal and growing its Lingít language instruction.

    The program, Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy (TCLL), uses a place-based approach that integrates Tlingit language and culture into daily instruction, as numerous studies have shown that Indigenous students do better academically when Native culture is reflected at school.

    The program will expand from its current K-5 services into grades 6-8 by the 2024-2025 school year, said Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) President Rosita Worl.

    “The growth will allow the deeply supportive and intentional community that TCLL has built to continue supporting students on through their middle school years,” Worl said.

    The program also has a new full-time, interim principal—Molly Box, a former JSD principal who has worked in education for 30 years.

    Box worked as a classroom teacher for more than 20 years at the middle school level and as an assistant principal at Floyd Dryden Middle School.

    She retired in 2021 after serving as principal of Harborview Elementary and TCLL and teaching grades 4-5 at Harborview.

    The Juneau School District is currently seeking a permanent principal who will work with families in supporting language revitalization.

    The program is expanding to middle school as part of a plan to establish a dual language program, a form of education in which students are taught literacy and content in two languages. The shift means teachers will incorporate more Lingít into lessons.

    Funding from and partnerships with SHI, Douglas Indian Association, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, Hoonah Heritage Foundation, the Juneau School District, and Tlingit & Haida Central Council has enabled the program to flourish for more than 20 years.

    The current team of educators is comprised of three Elders, three language instructors, and three classroom teachers. With the expansion to middle school, the team will add an additional two classroom teachers, one language instructor, and one Elder.

    In addition to content-based instruction, TCLL students engage daily with Tlingit Elder cultural specialists, go on culturally oriented field trips (clan house, traditional food harvesting, etc.), celebrate their linguistic skills by performing songs/dances at community events, and learn Tlingit cultural values.

    Through the grant, SHI is also developing 60 books in Lingít for the program.

    The TCLL middle school program will offer culturally-relevant elective classes and access to sports and after-school activities available at the other two optional JSD middle schools. Box will work with parents to establish a TCLL Site Council and Family Committee.

    The Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy Program (TCLL) is a place-based, culture-based “program within a school” where the Tlingit language and culture are integral to daily instruction, where they are celebrated and respected.

    TCLL in the Juneau School District (JSD) is one of three optional programs open to all students, along with Montessori Borealis School and the Juneau Community Charter School. TCLL started with Sealaska Heritage in 2000, and it proved so successful, the school district assumed funding for the program.

    A study in 2013 found that the incorporation of traditional tribal values of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian directly contributes to Alaska Native student success and fosters an environment to grow leadership skills, self-confidence, and creativity.

    SHI’s goals are to build a thorough language immersive program within TCLL, increase teacher fluency in Tlingit language, and develop TCLL into an autonomous Optional Program in the JSD. TCLL is supported through Sealaska Heritage with federal funding from the Alaska Native Education Program.

    Parents of Native students have equal opportunity to enroll their Native child in the TCLL program. Students enrolled in TCLL and their families have equal treatment and access to services as JSD provides necessary educational support and accommodations for TCLL students in need in compliance with federal and state laws. For more information, visit the TCLL website.

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