ANAKTUVUK PASS, Alaska (KTUU) — Lillian Stone grew up in Anaktuvuk Pass, a small village in Alaska's interior accessible only by plane, where people are deeply connected to hunting traditions and the seasonal migration of caribou.
She's Iñupiat, and in her classroom, you'll hear common nursery rhymes sung both in English and Iñupiaq, the words of her first language rising joyfully along with animated signing.
Stone is teaching the basics — math, reading, and writing. But much more is going on.
As an Alaska Native woman born and raised in the community she has chosen to return to and teach in, she's also a mentor and role model, someone with an intuitive and lived experience her students share.
It's that cultural effectiveness and the sense of pride in self that serve as a powerful role model for her students, according to the National Indian Education Association.
Twenty-two percent of students across the State of Alaska are Alaska Native or American Indian, while less than six percent of teachers share that ethnicity, according to the Alaska Department of Early Education and Development.
A report by the National Education Association states that educators grounded in their community have more favorable views of students, and have more positive perceptions about student potential.
In a recent interview with KTUU, Stone said growing up, she experienced hunger, poverty and family members with addiction. Despite those barriers, her family members and a few teachers she connected with pushed her to never give up on getting an education.
She eventually graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a degree in early education, and has taught at Nunamiut School in Anaktuvuk Pass for nearly 10 years, where she lives with her husband and children.
"The more that I put in, the more that these kids get and that makes me happy," Stone said. "I want them to know that they can be whatever they want to be."