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Avant-Garde Learning Foundation Holds First Fundraiser to Increase Alaska Native Teachers


Shell Oil Presents $350,000 Contribution at Event

Avant-Garde Learning Foundation, an Alaska nonprofit focused on improving education in Alaska, hosted its first fundraising event to support Alaska Native teacher candidates last night at the CIRI Conference Center in Anchorage. At the event, Avant-Garde accepted a $350,000 contribution from Shell Oil to support its Alaska Native Teacher Initiative (ANTI).

The initiative seeks to improve the state’s ability to recruit, support and graduate our own teachers, thereby increasing the number of Alaska Native teachers especially in rural Alaska and ultimately improving low student achievement rates.

Alaska imports its teachers at an alarming rate, with nearly 70 percent originating from out-of-state, while only 5 percent are Alaska Native. The average teacher in rural Alaska remains in the community for less than two years, leading to high teacher turnover. Research has identified a correlation between this high turnover rate and low student achievement.

“The need in Alaska for more Native teachers has never been greater,” said Kameron Holloway Perez-Verdia, CEO of Avant-Garde. “Educators and educational researchers widely agree that Alaska Native students would be best served by increasing the number of Alaska Native teachers. By increasing the number of Native people certified to teach and working as teachers, we believe we’ll improve both student achievement and the local economy.”

Avant-Garde launched the initiative in 2007, in partnership with a statewide consortium comprised of school districts and higher education institutions. Today, the initiative offers support to teacher candidates across the state, all at various stages moving toward graduation and certification. In addition to supporting the teacher candidates, Avant-Garde also works with the schools to improve the process of becoming a teacher.

Kinka Parker is one student currently benefiting from the initiative. Parker, who lives in Togiak, took a break from school after having a baby in 2008. Upon returning to school, she found the transition to be challenging. However, with the support of ANTI, Parker has built a plan to reach her education goals, prepared for and successfully taken her PRAXIS I exams, and is well on her way to graduating with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

“ANTI helps teacher candidates realize that going to school can be challenging but it can be done. ANTI helps teacher candidates develop realistic short-term and long-term plans that are achievable. The plans help you to see what actions you need to take and ANTI is there in each step helping you,” said Parker, who expects to graduate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Bristol Bay Campus in 2012 and plans to work as a teacher in Togiak or another rural Alaska village.

Shell has been a long-time supporter of the initiative; the company previously contributed $352,000 toward ANTI in late 2008. In addition to ANTI, Shell also supports other Avant-Garde efforts, including the organization’s science initiative, which seeks to improve the quality of science education in Alaska.

“A stable teaching environment is one that benefits teachers as much as it does students. As we have learned through the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, Alaska Native students can be every-bit the engineers as their urban peers if given the opportunity and the tools to succeed. Making sure teachers are trained and consistently available to those students is a critical part of that tool box,” said Simon King, communications manager with Shell Alaska.

Avant-Garde was founded in early 2005 as a nonprofit corporation by Dr. Shirley Holloway, the former Alaska State Commissioner of Education and Early Development. Avant-Garde is committed to partnering with universities and colleges, school districts, business, tribal organizations, and communities to transform education and ensure Alaska’s young people have the opportunity for bright, successful futures.
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