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Retention Rates Rise in Galena, Alaska

What’s it worth to hear from adolescents, “Teachers care about us”? And what if that means those students stay in school?

In the Alaska Bush, on the banks of the Yukon, the small town of Galena hosts a residential career and technical education (CTE) school for 215 boarding students and a community high school for 46 local residents. The two schools share a campus and faculty. Attrition rates were higher than desired, especially since the large majority of students must live away from their Alaska Native communities, friends, and families.

With a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the school brought in two Reading Apprenticeship staff developers to help teachers consider the role of academic identity in student persistence and success, and to work with teachers on reading instruction that would give students concrete experiences of their own reading agency and competence. Teachers went through reading experiences like those they would be providing their students. They read challenging texts together and talked their way through to comprehension.

As one teacher told the group, “This talking we are doing helped me. I looked at this text and didn’t want to read it. I would normally just set this aside and never look at it again. But (pointing at various colleagues) when he and she and she said what they did, I got something out of this. I went back and read. I think our kids could do that, too. I think that if the kids talk to each other like we have been doing, they will do better, too.”

And so began a change, as students learned ways to approach difficult text and work their way to comprehension. At the end of the school year, a grant evaluator from the Department of Education held a phone meeting with the principal and other administrators to exchange information about the school’s Reading Apprenticeship experience. To everyone’s great satisfaction, retention rates had increased dramatically.

The Reading Apprenticeship model, coupled with other district initiatives, provided a stronger foundation of support for students. And, the evaluator reported, students’ survey questionnaires showed this compelling data: “Teachers care about us.”

Were teachers less caring before? Not likely, but their practices changed in ways that their caring shone through. Students felt the difference.

Galena

In remote Galena, Alaska, airplanes deliver most students to the town’s residential career and technical education school. With some help from Reading Apprenticeship, retention rates at the school have increased. One compelling clue: “Teachers care about us.”

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