ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Anchorage elementary school has launched a language immersion program in Yup’ik for a kindergarten class.
Lorina Warren teaches her kindergarten class at College Gate Elementary in only the Yup’ik language for about half the day, Alaska Public Media reported Thursday.
The Anchorage School District has language immersion programs in German, Spanish and Japanese, but it lacked an Alaska Native language program until this year.
“Over 11 different languages offered in the Anchorage School District —this is the first one that represents a people of Alaska,” school Principal Darrell Berntsen said.
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Through the program, the district aims for the students to be fluent in the language by the time they graduate from high school.
Teaching the language is way to preserve the culture, Warren said.
“I believe language is very important because that’s how our ancestors grew up speaking,” Warren said. “And right now, we may have lost a lot but what we have right now, I think it’s important for these kids to learn it.”
About half of the students in the class are Yup’ik, but they all primarily speak English at home, Warren said. Teaching the language to the children could encourage their parents to speak the language more.
“They may speak Yup’ik, but they’re speaking to their kids in English,” Warren said. “And I think having their kids in the Yup’ik program will make the parents try to speak to them in Yup’ik at home.”
The best way to ensure a language doesn’t die is by teaching children how to speak it, Berntsen said.
The district is planning to expand the program by adding an instructor each year as the class advances.