Nikaitchuat Ilisagviat
P.O. Box 296
Kotzebue, AK 99752

"All Under Heaven - One Family"
The Inupiaq culture is centered on respect, we instill in our children respect for:
Creator - Culture - Elders - Animals - Generosity - Honesty - Hunter Success
Ingenuity - One's Self - Others - Nature

Our Mission:
To instill the knowledge of Inupiaq identity, dignity, respect
and to cultivate a love of lifelong learning.

Click on any photo to enlarge:


We Believe:

  • Do unto others as you would do unto yourself.
  • It is advantageous to be able to communicate in more than one language.
  • Knowing a second language promotes cognitive development and academic achievement in all subjects.
  • Learning a new language produces insight into that culture's world view.
  • Second language learning improves a child's understanding and appreciation of his/her first language.
  • Preparation for college and many careers is enhanced through second language acquisition.
  • Knowledge of a second language promotes cross-cultural understanding, mutual respect, and world peace.

Our Goals include the following:
1.) To provide the benefits of proficiency in Inupiaq and understanding of Inupiaq culture.
2.) To achieve academic growth and mastery of the Inupiaq language.
3.) To provide students with communicative competence in speaking, reading, and writing appropriate to their level of language development.
4.) To enable students to have expanded educational and career opportunities.
5.) To foster in students high levels of motivation, achievement, self-confidence, and mutual respect.

In order for a student to be admitted to Nikaitchuat the parent(s) must turn in an application. The parents will be interviewed to determine the readiness of the child and commitment to the program. There are currently a certain number of students. If there is no room, then your child will be placed on a waiting list. The order of the children being admitted will be those who qualify and the order in which they applied.

Experts who study second language learning and immersion programs distinguish between language learning and language acquisition. Acquisition and learning are two very distinct ways of developing knowledge and skills in a second language. Basically, acquisition means "picking up" a language through the natural process of using it in everyday situations that require communication, whereas language learning involves developing a conscious knowledge of grammatical and other formal "rules". The difference is between using language for meaningful social and academic purposes instead of talking about language. Though both forms of developing understanding of a language are important and have their place, comparative studies of second language acquisition programs and second language learning programs consistently show that acquisition-centered programs are far more effective in developing actual communicative competence in second languages than are programs that emphasize formal language learning. There are many aspects of explanation for this, but the most basic is that the more natural language acquisition approach organizes classroom activities around curricular topics of interest to the children rather than focusing on the teaching of the language itself. The emphasis is on teaching the curriculum subject matter using the second language in a language-rich and emotionally supportive environment. The bibliography section lists sources of more information on language acquisition. (See especially Krashen and Terrell.)

Language immersion programs have three primary goals:
1.) to develop mastery in both a different language
2.) to develop mastery in the standard curriculum
3.) to acquire the cultural knowledge without which knowledge of the target language is incomplete.

There are many situations in which proper use of language is determined by cultural context. Thus cultural objectives are also incorporated into the overall plan, and many cultural materials and activities are included in the program.

Our immersion teachers utilize what is known as the Natural Approach to language acquisition, which makes use of the same kinds of processes everyone goes through in learning their first language. This approach is in contrast to the language lab and textbook oriented audiolingual and grammar-translation methods of language of used with older students and adults, which are beyond both the comprehension and patience of young children. The Natural Approach emphasizes real communication for practical purposes in which the focus is on the learning activities involved, not primarily on the language, so that students indirectly acquire linguistic understanding through direct involvement in learning and play activities that are meaningful to them. Grammar study is introduced only in the later grades when students have acquired sufficient competence in Inupiaq and are ready for this sort of analysis. Visits to the classroom will provide firsthand understanding of the Natural Approach in operation. For those interested in knowing more about language acquisition techniques, including theory and research, a list of Resources for Parents and a Bibliography are provided in this handbook.


It is extremely important that parents of students enrolled in Nikaitchuat be well informed about immersion, its goals and methods. This handbook provides a foundation for this knowledge. It is equally important that parents be involved with Nikaitchuat. One essential way to become both more knowledgeable and involved is to visit your child's classroom during the school day. Parents are required also to attend the bimonthly meetings to keep up to date on what your child is learning.

Those of us who are interested in language immersion education – either as administrators and teachers, or as parents who are considering applying their child in an immersion program quite naturally want to know as much as possible regarding immersion education. We hope that the questions and answers that follow will address the most common of those concerns. Please feel to contact any of the persons listed under Resources for Parents to further discuss these or any other questions you may have.

Language immersion is a method of second language instruction that makes use of the language being taught, the "target language", to teach. In other words, the target language, in our case Inupiaq, is not itself the subject of instruction but serves as the vehicle for teaching of curriculum.

Immersion programs share four common goals:
(a) to develop a high level of proficiency in understanding, speaking, reading and writing in the target language;
(b) to develop English language skills on par with non-immersion students;
(c) to provide content instruction that is culturally relevant to the target language
(d) to develop positive attitudes toward those who speak the target language and their culture.

Considerable research over several decades confirms that literacy skills developed in the target language transfer to English. Studies comparing first language development in immersion and non-immersion students consistently show that students in early immersion programs perform as well as, or better than, their non-immersion peers on tests of English verbal and mathematical skills. Until English language arts are introduced, total immersion students usually experience a "lag" in English spelling, punctuation, and other language mechanics, though curiously they tend to do well on measures of English reading comprehension. This lag disappears within a year or so following introduction of English into the program, and immersion students then perform as well as or better than their non-immersion peers on tests, including English language arts and reading. In the long run, learning a second language strengthens rather than weakens students' first language.

English is spoken very rarely by the teachers. The two most important reasons for this concern is the process of language acquisition. First, children will internalize language best when they are exposed to a steady diet of meaningful input, and second, when teachers fall back on using English, students may become insufficiently motivated to learn Inupiaq because they can rely on explanations in English. Students, of course, will speak in English initially, and will be gently encouraged to move into speaking Inupiaq as their competence and confidence grows.

5. What if no one at home speaks Inupiaq?
Most immersion programs are intended for children from families in which the target language is not spoken, so you should not be concerned if it is not possible to speak Inupiaq at home. Communication with teachers can be in either Inupiaq or English, and messages from school and report cards will be bilingual.

6. When will my child start speaking Inupiaq?
This will depend on several factors that vary considerably between children, including their past and present exposure to Inupiaq outside the school, developmental readiness, and classroom participation. By May some Kindergartners will be speaking Inupiaq to varying extents while others will be speaking little or not at all on their own. Just as children began crawling, walking, and speaking English at different ages, so self-initiated speech in Inupiaq will emerge naturally when each child is ready. With young children, parents should resist the temptation to compare their child's development with that of other children. Differences in language development tend to even out over the years.

7. What dialect will my child learn?
There is a variety of dialects are spoken during the school day. Our immersion program is designed to provide a solid base of Inupiaq from which children will naturally elaborate their own dialect. They will develop the dialect by incorporating dialect influences from home and the community. If you have a traditional dialect which you speak, you are strongly encourages to speak it with your child at home, around town, and when visiting the school. At Nikaitchuat, teacher, aides, and elders will be showing by example that they value and respect dialect differences; children will never be discouraged from using dialects.

8. What can parents do to help their child be successful?
If you have taken the step of applying to Nikaitchuat, you will quite naturally want to know how you can help ensure your child's success. Please read the section on Parent Involvement.

Commitment on the part of parents is critical to the success of any language immersion program. Your active interest and support will greatly influence your child's success; you must be an advocate of the program with your child. Parents must understand how Nikaitchuat works, support its goals, and make a long term commitment to their child's participation, as it takes years for children to develop a near-native fluency in a second language. We thus strongly encourage parents to take an active part at Nikaitchuat Ilisagviat. The results will be well worth the effort. Following, then, are several areas in which you can contribute to your child's success. At school parents may contribute to both Nikaitchuat's and their child's success by volunteering in the classroom or asking the Director if there are any tasks that they may need help with. Volunteers may serve either during the school day or otherwise. Examples of ways parents can be involved at school include making and/or duplicating materials for classroom use, helping with a group activity (like chaperoning a field trip) demonstrating arts and crafts, assisting with potlucks, and visiting to observe class activities. Following are a few handy hints:

  • Attend the bimonthly parent meetings. This will provide information and many questions are answered.
  • Show your child your interest and concern by scheduling class visits and other involvement activities for yourself and by talking with his or her teacher. Visits and activities will also help you get to know your child's teacher and become more knowledgeable about Nikaitchuat. An exception to class visits will be during the first few weeks of the year, during which time visitations will not be scheduled because students will be adjusting to the routines and requirements of the whole new world of school. Parents are asked to please be patient and understanding during this critical adjustment period, and, of course meetings with teachers may still be arranged during these initial weeks.
  • During visits, please respect our policy of teachers speaking only Inupiaq when students are present. Any conversations with teachers not in Inupiaq will have to be held when students are not present.
  • As your child's teacher how you might help with preparing materials, assisting in classroom or outdoor activities, sharing traditional knowledge, storytelling, demonstrating an art or craft, etc.


  • Encourage your child by letting him or her know how proud that he/she is learning Inupiaq. Compliment their progress.
  • Do not attempt to correct your child's pronunciation, expressions or grammar if you are not certain of this yourself. Most errors will self-correct with sufficient experience, and in any case, indirect "correction through modeling is more effective.
  • Be patient! Don't expect your child to be speaking much Inupiaq after the first few days, weeks, or even months, and never force them to do so. Children will not speak until they have internalized a sufficient amount of language structure and content, and they will do so at their own individual pace.
  • Do not ask your child to translate. Primary age children do not understand this concept very well, and translation is difficult until considerable language has been acquired.
  • If possible, promote the Inupiaq language and culture at home by speaking Inupiaq with your child, reading and telling Inupiaq stories, doing traditional arts and crafts, and viewing videos produced in Inupiaq or with Inupiaq cultural content. Recruit grandparents or other relatives or friends to help with these.
  • If you have a bilingual home use both languages. There's research to support academic achievement where each parent consistently models a different language.
  • Resist the temptation to compare your child's progress to that of other children. At any given time, children with different teachers may be learning somewhat different things, and no two children in the same classroom will always learn exactly the same things at the same time. Developmental readiness among any group of young children varies greatly.
  • Make a daily habit of talking with your child about what they did at school today. When they don't have much to say, try asking specific questions, such as, "What did you like most about school today?" or "What did you do that was really fun?"
  • Above all, be supportive and encouraging. This will be especially important if your child expresses frustration or dislike of the program. Adjustment to both school and a new language will take time. The important thing is that you let your child know that you are determined that she or he should stick with it and do their best. If difficulties persist, you should discuss this with your child's teacher.

In the community parents of children at Nikaitchuat Ilisagviat will always be looked upon as ambassadors of the program. So parents need to become informed of the programs purpose and goals, how immersion programs operate, the benefits of being bilingual. They should keep up to date on program activities and developments. There will be many opportunities to share information with others who will be curious about immersion, what you think of it, how your child is doing, and so on. Parents can also give further support to their child's success by taking advantage of the many opportunities to expose them to Inupiaq language and cultural events in Kotzebue, while visiting in villages, at fish camp, berry picking, etc.

Acknowledgments Special recognition is reserved for the many people  who have contributed to the development of Nikaitchuat Ilisagviat. It is impossible to list everyone who has given their support or participation in promoting and developing the program, yet we would like to extend a heartfelt "THANK YOU!" to all who have given their time and effort to this project.

The Kotzebue Vital Team
The initial planning team for Nikaitchuat Ilisagviat

Tarruq and Agnik Schaeffer
Administration for Native Americans
City of Kotzebue

U.S. Department of Education, Alaska Native Education Programs
Nikaitchuat Parents

Northwest Arctic Borough
Northwest Arctic Borough  School District
Kotzebue Elders Council
Maniilaq Association

NANA Regional Corporation, Inc.
Native Village of Kotzebue

Administration for Native Americans

All contents © Kotzebue IRA and Arctic Web Publications.
Site created & maintained by Arctic Web Publications