Alaskan Schools: What Matters to Students? Listening to the Voices of Engaged and Disengaged Alaska Native and Non-Native Students

Elizabeth Spier, Mark Garibaldi, and David Osher

What makes a school a place where Alaskan students want to be and want to do well? Why do students stay in school or drop out? And what do Alaskan students believe that schools can do to help them succeed? Researchers at AIR present the answers, provided directly by students in 2010 and 2011, to these questions.

Students were asked to describe what made a school a place where they would want to be and would want to do well. Students identified five areas of school life that were especially influential:

With teachers that don’t expect much, you won’t have the motivation to do well.”

  • Supportive adults
  • Physical and emotional safety
  • Student-centered teaching approaches
  • Opportunities to learn and engage
  • Food quality



Students also identified aspects of school life that affected engagement in education:

If your parents don’t get involved, then you’re not going to try at all."

  • Personal problems
  • Family engagement
  • Relevance
  • Teacher expectations
  • School-based problems

Alaskan students suggested the following ways, among others, that adults can help students succeed:

  • Provide a safe haven and support for vulnerable students.
  • Provide support for students who wish to improve their relationships with teachers.
  • Provide a structured environment that promotes equality and physical and emotional safety. 
  • Support teachers in providing an engaging and motivating classroom environment.
  • Provide appetizing and healthy school food.