Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins talks about Native language immersion charter schools Tuesday at the Native Issues Forum in Juneau. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins talks about Native language charter schools Tuesday at the Native Issues Forum in Juneau. (Ed Schoenfeld/CoastAlaska News)

New legislation will propose a system of encouraging and supporting Native language charter schools in Alaska.

Sitka Democratic Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins says the bill will be introduced this month.

He says it will follow in the footsteps of successful programs in New Zealand, Hawaii and Israel.

“The takeaway is very simple. To revitalize a language, you need immersion language education. You need children to be surrounded by an immersive language environment from a young age. And that is how you create a new generation of fluent speakers. That is how you turn the tide of language loss,” Kreiss-Tomkins says.

Immersion programs are already offered in several Alaska communities.

Kreiss-Tomkins says the bill will propose a special designation for charter schools following that model.

“It includes what is an academic policy committee, which is basically the school board for the charter school. It would include tribal representatives and elders and fluent speakers in order to ensure that school successfully embodies the culture of the language that that school is teaching,” he says.

The effort follows last year’s legislation establishing all Alaska Native languages as official. Kreiss-Tomkins led that effort, which was supported by tribal organizations statewide.

The new bill will also change rules about donated food.

“We want schools, especially these Native language charter schools, to be able to take subsistence foods that members of the community might donate and allow that to be part of the school lunch program,” he says.

“Simply put, salmon’s a lot more healthy than some deep-fried corn dog from goodness knows where.”

The Sitka legislator announced plans for the bill Tuesday at the Native Issues Forum in Juneau.

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