Yup’ik school prepares to resume classes in new building

BETHEL — A Yup’ik elementary school in Bethel that was destroyed by a fire last year found a new temporary home inside a vacated grocery store.

Students at Ayaprun Yup’ik Immersion School will start classes March 15 in the new building, which is still lined with empty freezers, KYUK-AM reported Monday.

“We got done with all the walls this week, and we’re installing doors and doing all our finishing home runs,” said Warren Nicolei, a construction inspector for the Lower Kuskokwim School District.

The district is leasing the building from the Bethel Native Corp. for three to five years while a new school is built.

After the Nov. 3 fire, students were split between classes at the district office and Gladys Young Elementary, where lessons were taught only in English.

“It’ll make a big difference, because when we had our own building, we focused mainly on Yugtun,” Ayaprun teacher John Cacuchin said of the Yup’ik language. “And then when we were fortunate enough to be in the DO and Gladys, the focus came away from the Yugtun, and now we’ll be focused on speaking Yugtun and learning Yugtun.”

Nicolei, who has three children who attend the school, said it is important for him that his kids continue learning about Yup’ik culture and language.

“They grew up listening to their grandparents speaking (Yugtun), and when we travel to my hometown in Kwethluk, they listen to it all the time, and they understand what’s being said. I’m happy that they get that base,” Nicolei said.

Since the school started over 20 years ago, it has yet to have a building of its own. It will be sharing the grocery store building with the local movie theater.

School board chairwoman Susan Murphy, who has supported efforts to give Ayaprun its own building, said the new space is a step in the right direction.

___

Information from: KYUK-AM, http://www.kyuk.org

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