STEPS Alaska Updates
Stepping Up for Alaska's Youth!

Save the Date!

Annual Gathering
May 6 & 7, 2021
Moving into Summer

As summer draws closer, students, educators, and community members are starting to think about summer programming. COVID-19 safety protocols are still in place, however, vaccines and program adaptations are allowing organizers to offer some amazing opportunities for students.  

STEPS partners are working to offer deep learning and engagement opportunities for students throughout the summer. From berry picking to construction academies there is a lot being offered this summer. 

Thank you to all of the STEPS partners and community members that are making sure students are connected to caring adults, to the land, to learning, and to each other. We know partners have given thought to how to make sure students are prepared for the learning in the fall, learning how to harvest foods, and for students to have hands-on learning opportunities to prepare them for careers in the future. 

Thank you! Gunalchéesh! Háw'aa! T’oyaxsut ‘nüüsm! for all that you do.

Place-Based Learning, Culture, and STEAM Keep Going Full Steam

STEPS partners have been dedicating resources and time to deepen place-based learning, cultural programming, and STEAM. From Tlingit classes and potato harvesting in Hoonah, to Sitka’s Native Education Program classes, take home science kits from the Juneau School District and SHI’s “Maker Kits” to community-based projects in Hydaburg - there have been so many positive developments to celebrate. Many of these programs made huge adaptations for distance learning. Remote zoom classes, specific transportation and outdoor distance practices are some of the ways that STEPS partners were able to keep these programs running.  

Communities, schools, and partners are now preparing for summer programs with some exciting options to get outside.

Yakutat: Kicks off summer STEM/STEAM and place-based learning in May 

May is a great month for place-based learning in Yakutat as they start off with Sea Week! The elementary school does Sea Week every year. It is a full week of field trips, hands on learning, exploring and students really getting to know the area around them. Some of the students favorite lessons are about our intertidal zones, sea birds and learning about the importance of phyto and zooplankton.

Yakutat is also beginning their first year of community gardening! The community garden has dedicated 24 plots for all students K-12 to use. Elementary grade students are getting ready to plant their starts inside with an expected replanting into the garden by the last week of school this May. The garden will be then transitioned into the Summer Explorers program. Students will learn about maintaining the garden and have opportunities to cook with early harvests. At the end of summer, students will celebrate with a final harvest and put the beds “to bed” for the winter. There is even an opportunity to use the greenhouse to plant some more unique foods. Composting is beginning to take off in Yakutat so students have a chance to be a part of that as well. 

Yakutat will revive their in-person Summer Explorers program again this year. Yakutat students study the uses of local plants as well as learning their stories and names in Tlingit. Yakutat community members hope to have some local Elder volunteers in person or over video (to be Covid-safe). This is a program loved by students, community members, and school staff. 

Angoon: Youth Conservation Corps: Highlights from 2020 and Looking to the 2021 Season
Angoon YCC
Even though there was some uncertainty about the 2020 season, the Angoon YCC was able to pull together one of their strongest seasons to date. The program employed 8 Native youth throughout the summer and were able to complete four successful multi-day work trips in the Kootznoowoo Wilderness on Admiralty Island National Monument.  

Thanks to efforts from Spruce Root they were able to work with the Sitka Conservation Society and Juneau Forestry Sciences Lab to incorporate the Wood Projects for Cultural Use activities this season. A major highlight of this program was having the youth conduct interviews with Elders and Culture-bearers regarding the cultural importance of Cedar.   

This summer, YCC has some exciting plans for the 2021 season ahead. Eric Benedict, Gabe Sjoberg, and the crew have at least four major trips planned for this season, including partnering with Southeast Alaska Watershed Coalition to remove a culvert from wilderness near Lake Florence on Admiralty Island. Other parts of Admiralty they will be conducting wilderness stewardship efforts include Mitchell Bay, Salt Lake, Kanalku Bay, and Hood Bay.
Angoon will be opening the Youth Conservation Corps program for the 2021 season! The program recruits youth aged 16-25 to work on natural resource management, maintaining natural areas, removing invasive species, and gaining outdoor education experience. Through a partnership that includes tribal government, tribal corporations, conservation groups, federal and state agencies, and nonprofits, youth can earn an income while working on projects such as trail maintenance, research on cultural wood products, tree coring, and community garden development. 

YCC will deliver programs in Angoon, Hoonah, Kake and on Prince of Wales Island. This is a great opportunity for youth interested in fisheries, forestry, engineering, recreation, community service and cultural stewardship.

Summer Construction Academy

Students from across Southeast who are interested in hands-on learning experiences are invited to enroll in the Summer Construction Academy. Students who complete the Academy, which will be held the last week of May and is co-sponsored by UAS and Tlingit & Haida, are eligible for industry certifications.

In a year when many high school-based Career and Technical Education courses were cancelled or moved on-line due to the pandemic, this summer-time opportunity for students to get back to learning real-life skills through real-life experiences. The course will take place in Juneau and travel funding is available for STEPS students from other communities (see the opportunities section below for more details and how to register.)

Across all of the STEPS communities, over 1000 students participated in programs that got them involved in science, culture, or local ecology. If you would like to connect with organizations providing programs and resources for place-based learning, reach out to Tyler at

Southeast Students Transitioning to Elementary School:

With one-third of students in Juneau skipping kindergarten last fall and many Head Start classrooms across the region closed to all but virtual learning this past year, we know that our youngest learners will need more support than ever while transitioning into a school setting. 

The Sitka School District is planning to include first graders as well as kindergartners in their summer camps and will have a big focus on social and emotional skills like self-regulation and persistence. 

The district is currently building outreach strategies to connect with families who may be hard to reach, for example, those who aren’t already enrolled in programs. One creative approach takes cues from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Rather than golden tickets tucked into chocolate bars, Lucky Stickers have been placed on food distribution boxes and a number of other locations around the community. All the stickers have QR codes which link to short videos about why and how to register for kindergarten, but only one lucky sticker links to a $25 prize. Registering and assessing the students now helps the district focus summer camp experiences on the students who could most benefit from them.

Check out the Sitka School District's Kindergarten welcome video.
Over the summer the Juneau School District will also have two three-week sessions of the Jump Start camp. The district has been recruiting Head Start teachers to work at the camp, a collaboration that could provide more continuity for students who are moving from Head Start to kindergarten. 

The Juneau School District will also be offering families virtual tours and has put together a welcome video. 

Other communities are adept at using cultural camps and other summer time camp opportunities to coach the social and emotional skills that are also important in a classroom. How do you behave in a group together? How do you care for yourself and others? What does it mean to stick with a task even if it is challenging? How do you listen and learn from stories?  These hands-on, curiosity and confidence building experiences can be especially valuable for kids transitioning into the school building in the fall. 

As the school year nears it will be important to plan ahead for not just incoming students but their families as well. How are families and students being welcomed into the school environment? What can we do to help build confidence and trust?

Toolkit graphic
Credit recovery needs now, and into the future:

Based on student data, a number of STEPS school districts and partners are making plans for credit recovery options over the summer. 

Recent data from the Juneau School District’s Indicators of Success published in February 2021 underscores the importance of giving students opportunities to get back on track. The report compared metrics like enrollment, grades and credits earned for the fall of 2020 with those of 2019. 

Not surprisingly there are some differences between the two semesters. Enrollment across the Juneau School District was down by 12% in the fall of 2020. Kindergarten classrooms saw the biggest difference with enrollment down by 36%. Some of the students who did not enroll this year but are likely to enroll next year may be ahead in credits while other students will likely be behind in their learning.

The pandemic also had an impact on the number of students who are on track to graduate. When comparing the fall of 2019 with the fall of 2020, the district found that:

  • The percentage of high school students on track to graduate in four years fell by 10%
  • Freshmen were the most behind in credits; only 63% were on track to graduate in four years, as compared with 81% on track in the fall of 2019. Sophomores also appear to be heavily impacted.
  • High school seniors appear to be less impacted by credit loss; the same number of seniors (79%) are on track to graduate this year as they were last school year. 

The information indicates that credit recovery options may be needed not only this year, but into the future as students work to catch up. School districts are using data and talking to students and families to understand summer programs and fall transition programs that can help students prepare for reentry to school. 

As you think about your own community and credit recovery, some questions to consider might be:
  • How does this data compare with data /trends in my community?
  • What is surprising? 
  • Where are we seeing success?
  • Where is there opportunity to improve?
  • What strategies might be needed to help students? Is there evidence or examples of best practices to support these strategies?

Rain or Shine Learning All the Time - Caregivers Sparking Love for Learning 
For organizations and community members
Bright images and short messages remind parents caregivers about the simple things they can do to help spark big brain growth for their little people. 
Access these social media ready files or get posters for your community by contacting Emily Ferry,, (907) 463-1660. 

Summer Construction Academy - May 24-29
Tlingit & Haida is collaborating with the University of Southeast to support students in participating in the summer Intro to Construction Courses. The three courses during the week-long intensive are: S102 – Intro to Construction, S103 – Hand and Power tools, S104 – Safety OSHA. Students will receive 3 UAS credits as well as OSHA Construction Safety certification. 

Tlingit & Haida and UAS are working together to cover the cost of travel, lodging, food, and tuition for approximately 15-20 students from our STEPS communities. At this time, we are reaching out to our community partners and contacts to gage interest and get the word out of this opportunity. We would love to work with the school districts and communities to get a cohort of students to participate in this opportunity. If you have any questions or further information, please feel free to contact Sarah Dybdahl or Tina Ryman

Tlingit & Haida Navigators Tutoring Services
For students needing extra support
The Navigators team is now offering one-on-one virtual tutoring services that align with students’ schedules. Students can register here or contact Kaley at 907-463-7752 or  

UAS’s Successful Scholars
For incoming freshman
A strong support system can make a big difference in how students navigate the changes and challenges of college. The Successful Scholars Program is designed to provide that support for first-generation, low income and/or underrepresented college students at the University of Alaska Southeast. If you know of students headed to UAS, contact Tina Ryman, to learn how they can participate in Successful Scholars.

Broadband benefits for low-income households
The FCC recently extended these benefits 
Both UAS and The Alaska Commission on PostSecondary Education are working to make completing the FAFSA easier by providing direct support for students and families as well as training for counselors (the next one is on April 29th, 3-3:30). Check out the resources here.

Free Social Emotional Curriculum helps kids and classrooms recover
Second Step is offering their Covid-19 support curriculum for all ages and teaching scenarios and is offering it for free. 
AASB Updates and Opportunities: