Suicide is no unknown epidemic in Alaska. In the Bering Strait region, we have approximately 10,000 residents. Just this year I could count four suicides off the top of my head, two of which were committed by children in the elementary age group. I think about suicide regularly, because unfortunately, with the way things are going I WILL have students who will fall to suicide eventually. Unless something is done about it.
Whenever I feel at a complete loss for answers, I turn to my 80 year old grandmother. She is very wise and straight forward in her advice. I believe her when she says that families aren’t raising kids right. I believe her when she tells me that we need more long-term pastors in our villages. As educators, we have such a power to make change in society. We have the young, intelligent minds that are being shaped by our very hands in our very own classrooms. Why not send off each grade of students to the next with a vision of future leadership in mind?
We can have a “I can only teach to who is present” attitude, or we can be proactive in teaching our students that they don’t have to follow society into hopelessness. Let’s teach our students to have hope, instead of fear. Let’s show our students, through our own example, that this isn’t how things need to be. We have the power to change our paths. Just look at some of the people in your own lives. Look at some of your students! How is it that sometimes that student, who you know their father is in prison and their mother is an addict, is still thriving in school? Can you honestly say that YOU aren’t making a positive impact on that student?
One thing I like to do with my students in rural Alaska, is have them introduce themselves the traditional way:
- First and last name
- Where they’re from
- Maternal grandparents and where they’re from
- Paternal grandparents and where they’re from
We like to make connections with each other. Maybe I don’t know that student, but I know their dad went to Covenant High with my mom back in the 80’s. I may not know their family, but I know their relatives in Nome. Students need to have pride in who they are as a person, not what they have on paper. I think Ms. DeWitt would have had much more confidence in college if she had a foundation in who she is and where she comes from, as she journeys forth on finding her own way.
If you are teaching in rural Alaska, I encourage you to study your village. Know the families, and their family trees. Take time to show your school/community that you care about them, and want to be apart of their introduction connection one day. “Oh you’re from Nome? Do you know Ms. Otton from NACTEC?” 🙂 You each really are in a position of power and I know that collectively we could prepare our students to be positive leaders one day.
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