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Rural Education Report: Student Success

Published On: Feb 06 2014 06:01:28 PM AKST   Updated On: Feb 06 2014 06:17:38 PM AKST

ut unless you sit in its classrooms and its dorms, you won't get the full picture of how this campus is breaking stereotypes and shaping our next crop of state leaders.


At Mt. Edgecumbe, it doesn't take much to motivate Andrew Karmun.

Even though he's away from his home in Nome, the high school senior says there no other place he would rather be than at the boarding school that’s operated in the southeast for more than 60 years.

"It started with my grandparents in the 1950s and 1960s, and then my parents came in the 1990s,"  Karmun said.

Junior Renatta Olson left her home in Golovin for different reasons. Beyond the books, she wanted the chance to play basketball on a guaranteed team.

"School is a lot different,” she said. “Here, you get more of a challenge, and there is a whole different experience. You’re here staying in dorms, you’re going to class, you’re independent. You’re doing all the things on your own." 

Mt. Edgecumbe may be known as the boarding school where nearly 95 percent of students are Alaska Native. Until you sit in a classroom, however, it’s hard to appreciate how this 60 year old campus is breaking stereotypes and shaping a new crop of state leaders

"Everything stops at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. There is no basketball, there is no anything," said Bernie Gurule, the school’s academic principal. 

That’s key for Mt. Edgecumbe's 400 students, who live and learn on campus seven days a week. That means every aspect of their environment is controlled, including a daily study hall that's non-negotiable.

Gurule said it's a mentality, the teachers are a part of. Science teacher Michael Mahoney has taught at Mt. Edgecumbe for 17 years, and said his job is to work with students of all learning abilities.

"I'm going to do my best to educate whatever kids walk in my room," he said. “I'm not just a teacher, I have an extended family of kids that I take care of throughout the year."

Even though some have said Mt. Edgecumbe takes students away from good village schools, educators say what the Sitka campus offers is good, too. 

"We are lucky enough to be bigger than most, and that's the advantage that we have here," said Gurule. 

"It's not about me, and it's not about their schools at home, it's about the kid," said Mahoney. 

It’s a choice that's opening doors for rural students, and an expectation to expand their horizons to be successful now and in the future. 

"We have students who are lawyers,” Mahoney said. “They are leaders in their communities.”

"A lot of my friends say I am missing out big time back home, all these people are doing cool things," Karmun said. "I'm telling you guys right now, for every one memory I make there, I'm missing out on five memories I make here. Everyday is an adventure, and I can't get enough of it."

Tuition to go to Mt. Edgecumbe is $250 a year, and students receive more than $1 million in scholarships every year. 

Officials say close to 80 percent of their students go on to vocational and technical training or college after graduation.

Renatta Olson and Andrew Karmun are part of that group. They plan on studying physical therapy and mechanical engineering in college.