Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: May 26th, 2023

Tlingit educational leader will serve as the program’s first principal

(TCLL Website)

The Juneau School District (JSD) has selected Eldri Westmoreland to lead the Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy (TCLL) Program, a groundbreaking elementary school program established by Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) and the JSD in 2000. Westmoreland will be TCLL’s first permanent principal, replacing interim principal Molly Box.

Westmoreland holds a master’s degree in mathematics education and is pursuing her doctorate in Indigenous Studies with a focus on education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In 2021, SHI awarded her its Judson L. Brown Leadership Award in recognition of her demonstrated academic achievement and leadership skills.

“We are ecstatic to have Eldri leading the charge, especially at a time when we are expanding the TCLL program to middle school,” said SHI President Dr. Rosita Worl. “To have someone of her caliber, professional experience and commitment to education in command of TCLL is like Raven aligned all of the stars, moon and planets! That she is Tlingit and carries our cultural values in her heart is the icing on the cake.”

Westmoreland began her professional journey in 1993 as a preschool teacher before moving into elementary and middle school as a lead teacher. She began working for the JSD as an elementary classroom teacher in 2009 and since 2019 has served both JSD and SHI as a middle school mentor teacher, instructional coach, and curriculum developer for SHI’s Opening the Box-STEAM program. She also owns and directs her own Indigenous education research and curriculum firm, Math Raven. She is Yeíl, Kaach.ádi (Raven, Frog), and a mother of four sons.

The TCLL program uses a place-based approach that integrates Tlingit language and culture into daily instruction, as numerous studies have shown that Indigenous students do better academically when Native culture is reflected at school. The K-5 program currently serves 72 students and is expanding to middle school as part of a plan to establish a dual language program, a form of education in which students are taught literacy and content in two languages. The shift means teachers will incorporate more Lingít into lessons.

Funding from and partnerships with SHI, Douglas Indian Association, Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, Hoonah Heritage Foundation, the Juneau School District and Tlingit & Haida Central Council has enabled the TCLL program to flourish for more than 20 years. The current team of educators is comprised of three Elders, three language instructors and three classroom teachers. With the expansion to middle school, the team will add an additional two classroom teachers, one language instructor and one Elder. In addition to content-based instruction, TCLL students engage daily with Tlingit Elder cultural specialists, go on culturally oriented field trips (clan house, traditional food harvesting, etc.), celebrate their linguistic skills by performing songs/dances at community events and learn Tlingit cultural values.

About TCLL

The Tlingit Culture, Language and Literacy Program is place-based, culture based “program within a school” where the Tlingit language and culture are integral to daily instruction, where they are celebrated and respected. TCLL in the Juneau School District is one of three optional programs open to all students, along with Montessori Borealis School and the Juneau Community Charter School. TCLL started with Sealaska Heritage in 2000, and it proved so successful, the school district assumed funding for the program. A study in 2013 found that the incorporation of traditional tribal values of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian directly contributes to Alaska Native student success and fosters an environment to grow leadership skills, self-confidence, and creativity. SHI’s goals are to build a thorough language immersive program within TCLL, increase teacher fluency in Tlingit language, and develop TCLL into an autonomous Optional Program in the JSD. TCLL is supported through Sealaska Heritage with federal funding from the Alaska Native Education Program.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Ricardo Worl, SHI Media and Publications Director, ricardo.worl@sealaska.com; Kristy Dillingham, SHI Education Director, kristy.dillingham@sealaska.com.

Caption: Photo courtesy of Eldri Waid Westmoreland. Note: Media outlets are welcome to use this photo for coverage of this story. For a higher resolution version, contact ricardo.worl@sealaska.com.

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