English has become a standard second language in many cultures,
one former English teacher is making sure it doesnt drive
another language into extinction.
Stephen OBrien 72 is the principal of Ayaprun
Elitnaurvik, an Eskimo language immersion school in Bethel, Alaska.
He moved to Alaska in 1979 to teach English, where, in Bethel, many
citizens spoke Yupik, their native language. When I
first arrived in Alaska, they didnt have TV or anything, so
the only language they saw or heard was their own, says OBrien.
Most people stuck with their original dialect.
OBrien planned on staying for two years. But as time passed,
so did the idea of teaching English. Alaskans increased exposure
to television and radio led to greater English proficiency and a
downturn in Yupik speakers. The latest generation of Bethel
children started speaking English as their first language. Parents
asked local schools to help the children re-learn their native language
and in 1995, the Yupik language immersion school began as
an extension of the existing Bethel school system. In 1998, the
state granted permission to begin a language immersion charter school
and thus Ayaprun Elitnaurvik began.
OBrien is well aware of the statistics indicating academic
benefits for bilingual students. Although hes not fluent with
Yupik, OBrien oversees a staff of 12 native-speaking
teachers. They use full language immersion, speaking Yupik
exclusively from grades K-2. By third grade, they introduce a mix
of English and Yupik.
His English-teaching days far behind him, OBriens career
change has helped preserve a native language and improve his young
students academic successtwo rewarding accomplishments
no matter which language one teaches.