By Ted Wright
September 13, 2005
My first reaction to Mr. Allen's letter is that he should go to the Wednesday meetings organized by Bill Thomas and push for prevention over intervention, though I think there's plenty of room for both.
Second, anyone who comments on the drop out rate in Ketchikan should spend a lot more time getting to know the history of Alaska Native education and the current realities of the Native community, as most drop outs in the district are Native. As one does research in this area they will find that outside employment opportunities versus those available in the local service, business, and resource sectors are not nearly as critical to student success as are other factors.
Mr. Allen might find, for example, that the extent to which curriculum and instruction are connected to culture and community has much more to do with Native student retention and achievement than does the prospect of a certain kind of job. To the extent that teens feel a sense of hopelessness about their future in a small community, those feelings can be mitigated by a strong sense of self and connection to place. This is especially true of Native students, but applies generally to all.
And yes, teens need to stop having babies before they are able to care for themselves much less the babies they are having. But to focus on this reality begs the question of why kids are having kids in the first place. Prevention of this behavior, again, has to do with the extent to which young students know and respect themselves. And that has, again, much to do with culture and community. When teen pregnancy, alchol/drug abuse, suicide and other negative social indicators are high, you can bet that many kids' sense of self worth and belonging to family, community, and culture is low.
When kids have babies before they are old enough and responsible enough to take care of them, we should help. When students are thinking about dropping out of school, or have already done so, we should help. When someone like Bill Thomas stands up and says something needs to be done now about Ketchikan kids falling through the cracks, we should stand with him and help.
Perhaps the ANB/ANS in Ketchikan/Saxman could sponsor a community forum to discuss these issues and draft a plan of action this fall. I would even make every effort to come up and help as much as possible. Whether it's prevention or intervention, we all need to take responsibility for the health of our communities, especially when it comes to those least able to help themselves.
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