STEPS Alaska Updates
Stepping Up for Alaska's Youth!
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In this 4 minute video, Assingaq Janet Johnson, Lower Yukon School District Yup’ik Language and Culture Director, urges educators feeling isolated to look towards community activities, such as subsistence, as a way to build community and to tend to body, mind and spirit.
This month’s newsletter theme is resiliency and mental health.

With COVID not yet a distant memory, intense winter weather, and general uncertainty, many STEPS partners have been reflecting on how this past year has taken a toll. 

For example, a group of 30 youth who came together in Juneau last week for AASB’s Youth Advocacy Institute noted that mental health and care for their peers and families is their greatest concern. 

But many STEPS partners have also shared that they have found a new strength, built new or stronger bonds, and have been heartened by the emotional resilience of students and families.

The articles included in this month’s newsletter offer tools, examples, and resources for building resiliency as individuals and in our communities: 

  • Leveraging Mental Health and Trauma Engaged Schools Through STEPS
  • Strengthening Our Skills for Resilience & Connection
  • Community Dialogues: Creating Space for Hosting and Healing
  • Upcoming Opportunity for Host Training in April
  • Youth Advocacy Institute Share Out
Leveraging Mental Health and Trauma Engaged Schools Through STEPS
STEPS partners across the state have been learning about trauma and working toward trauma engaged schools for years. So when the pandemic began impacting our staff, students and families, many Alaskan educators already had a general understanding of the impact of trauma on the brain and learning. Educators were able to make the connection between the extended levels of stress that students, families, and staff were experiencing and the relationship-centered and social emotional supports that students could benefit from. In addition, the tools, supports, and partnerships were already in place to leverage these supports with families and community partners during COVID.

Renee Culp of Tlingit & Haida Central Council’s Navigators program shared that her work has helped her see gaps and the need for culturally responsive mental health care. Renee noted that students in the Navigators program have had heightened levels of stress, anxiety, sadness, depression, and hopelessness since the pandemic hit. And, these challenges facing students have been increasing over the last two years. For example, in the last month, Navigators intervened with 3 different crises/emergencies. This is not common for Navigators - historically they would handle 1-3 crises per year.  

What Renee is hearing from families and youth is that they need quality, timely, and culturally sensitive mental health services. And other educators and partners have been sharing similar concerns.

Shéiyi X̱aat Hít, Spruce Root House, has been a valuable addition to emergency housing for youth in Juneau. However, even though the doors have just opened recently, due to limited rooms and size, it is still not able to meet all the needs of the community. 

Homelessness can be a significant stressor for youth. One youth shared with Renee that they had considered “walking into the woods” (suicide) as an option if they could not find housing. Fortunately, Navigators staff was able to support this youth in finding a stable place to live. However, not all youth have these support resources available to them.

With youth facing such significant mental health challenges, increased experiences of trauma, and limited access to mental health services, what can we do to help them?

Leverage Mental Health Supports - Last spring, based on the STEPs partners request, AASB convened the “Leveraging Mental Health Supports” workgroup, recognizing that there is a need to create some lasting and systemic changes to the mental health supports available in our region. The group decided to focus on the following three areas:

  • Reflective Practice and Mental Health Consultation
  • Addressing Mental Health Service Gaps
  • Cultural Responsive and Intergenerational Healing; how to provide services in a culturally responsive manner that meets the needs of our clients?

This work group includes organizations/partners T&H behavioral health, Juneau and Chatham School districts, Sealaska Heritage Institute, JAHMI, Alaska Mental Health Trust, Bartlett Regional Hospital, Juneau Suicide Health Coalition, REACH, SEARHC, Juneau Community Foundation, and others. Some of the partners were meeting for the first time.

There is great need for this group to help improve the mental health supports available to our communities.

Continue to Build Connections and Supports - As caring adults who work closely with students, often we are in a position to help those who are struggling to connect to critical supports like housing, transportation, safety, and mental health services. Partnership with local organizations, wrap-around services such as those provided by the Navigators program, and ongoing communication with schools, families, and students, help to ensure that struggling students aren’t falling through the cracks of our limited mental health system.

Trauma-Engaged Schools - Educators have shared that the most impact occurs when trauma engaged schools training is on-going and systemic and creates spaces to reflect. 

Maressa Jensen, Juneau School District Trauma Engaged Schools specialist, shared that she has very clearly seen the benefits of reflective practice across the district allowing principals and school staff the space to reflect on their classroom and individual practices. For example, during one discussion, an educator reflected on the use of a dated reward system for discipline which certainly was not a restorative practice as it didn’t take into account how children whose brains were currently “flipped” couldn’t be in a place to reason and/or be motivated by stickers on a chart. Through reflection, Juneau educators were able to change practice to be more effective and restorative for students experiencing trauma.

However, during the pandemic many educators also report that while they are interested in trauma engaged supports, they also feel like they have little energy or time to focus on anything outside of the classroom. Continued support for educators and resources to continue trauma-engaged practices in and outside of the classroom will be important to continue this work moving forward. In addition, self-care for educators is essential (see next article).

There is a lot of work to be done in this area, but hopefully through continued partnership and collaboration, we can make changes to the system to better support our students and families.
Strengthening Our Skills for Resilience & Connection
STEPS February Newsletter Self Care
Does this meme feel familiar? Educators and organizational leaders across Alaska have shared that there are many continuing stressors building on top of each other in schools and communities. The recent shortage of people to work and so many getting sick, highlighted the ongoing challenges for students, families, and ourselves. Recently, a principal remarked, “We need time to cry. Where is the time for emotion in school? There is so much emotion coming up for students and adults now.”

Wellness Starts with Resilience and Self-Care

This same principal explained, “Sometimes we are proactive with staff wellness, and sometimes it is not even on the radar. We are all over the place.” In October 2021, the Chatham and Hoonah School Districts prioritized time for staff to focus on “Taking Care of Ourselves, Taking Care of Each Other.” Lisa Worl and Heather Coulehan hosted the workshop which explored the concept of resilience and identified strategies for self-regulation and self-care.

Resilience is the process of adapting in the face of adversity, stress, or trauma. It is coping with the ups and downs of life by fostering your own wellness and regulation. 

Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and manage your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in accordance with the demands of the situation. A few weeks ago, a teacher remarked, “In the past year, I've not been able to separate my emotions from work and I find it "spilling over" more. It has been rough.”

In this 2 minute video about the Self-Care Wheel, Maressa Jensen, Trauma Engaged SEL Specialist for the Juneau School District, reminds us that resilience is not a fixed personality trait, but a muscle we can strengthen with daily practice. Self-care is that daily practice! Self-care is taking deliberate and intentional actions which tend to the mind, body and spirit. These are daily and bite-sized practices that build resilience and self-regulation.
What You Can Do for Yourself

  • Inventory: Use the “Educator Resilience and Trauma-Informed Self-Care” resource from the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders as a personal check-in on your own self-care practices. The tool can be used as a self-assessment tool or as a brainstorming resource to spark additional self-care strategies. The resource also includes a goal setting tool.

  • Guided Practice Video Series: Watch the four part video series “Skills for Resilience and Connection” with Dr. Vanessa Meade, Associate Professor of Social Work at UAA. Each video is only 10-15 minutes long. In the first video, Dr. Meade introduces the research base for self-regulation and mindfulness. Videos 2-4 are focused on guided strategies. 

Part 1: Introduction to Skills for Resiliency and Connection
Part 2: Breath and Sound
Part 3: Body Sensation
Part 4: Thoughts and Emotions

  • Goal Setting: Set an intention or goal for one small, bite-sized way that you can build self-care into your work day. Consider sharing your intention with your colleagues so they can look for ways to help and support you.

What You Can Do for Others

  • Workshop: Reach out to Lisa Worl (lworl@aasb.org) or Heather Coulehan (hcoulehan@aasb.org) to find out more about how to bring the “Taking Care of Yourself, Taking Care of Each Other” workshop to your school or organization.  

  • Staff Dialogue: Schedule time with colleagues or staff to explore the Educator Resilience self-assessment tool together. Have small group conversations to share insights about how to support each other during the work day.  

  • School-wide Self-Regulation: Watch Dr. Meade’s videos together as a staff. Discuss how opportunities for self-regulation can be integrated into the school-wide daily schedule.

“I think taking time to nurture myself as the year progresses is important and doing that with others in a shared profession seems powerful. Encouraging balance helps me keep my sanity during this crazy time and creates space in my week.” - Alaska Educator

More Resources - Transforming Schools Video Library

What is Self-Care? - In this 7 minute video, Deb Haynes, therapist and retired Mat-Su School District counselor, explores how self-care strengthens our ability to form relationships that allow for healing and resilience.

Community Dialogues: Creating Space for Hosting and Healing
Many have shared recently that it has became difficult to focus on work and see any progress, when mentally so many are feeling like they just wanted to survive or get through. Yet, so many of us and our partners want to know how we can still show up for our students and families.

AASB and Haa Tooch Lichéesh teamed up to explore this and to build skills of participants for hosting community dialogues with a dialogue host training in January. The virtual training was the first in a series, and focused on self care, family care and community care. 

Using social technologies and the traditional values learned from First Alaskans Institute, we created a virtual space to have a conversation about how we care for our communities during COVID. Using social technologies, key questions, and personal experiences, Haa Tooch Lichéesh opened a space for deep and meaningful conversations. 
 
We asked questions like “Over the last 2 years, what are the strengths that kept us going?” Many recognized their families, time out of the house and healthy boundaries were essential. Others identified our strengths as community and how important it is to be intentional about making time for ourselves and our families.

The dialogue gave all participants and hosts opportunity to reflect on the experiences of our students and neighbors in the community. What does our own reflection indicate that they might need from us as organizational leaders, educators, and community members?

This host training and dialogue was the first of two sessions. This first session created the space for us to consider how do we care for ourselves, our families, and our community. What are the resources and techniques we can use? The second session, scheduled for April, will dive deeper and provide an opportunity to identify the tools and techniques used in the dialogue and provide a chance for each participant to decide how to use those tools to host a conversation within their own community or organization. 

A special thanks to Della Cheney, Kolene James, Tina Samaniego, Ati Nasiah, David Abad, each of the participants, and the AASB team for hosting this conversation. 

To get involved contact kfrank@aasb.org or eferry@aasb.org.
Youth Advocacy Institute 2022: Student Input for Positive Change
Students testifying on legislation for our guest panel (left) and asking questions to Commissioner Johnson (right) during the 2022 Youth Advocacy Institute.
“I enjoyed getting to gather with other students from around the state and communicate on our problems in school.” - YAI Student

Twenty-nine students from twelve districts across the state gathered in Juneau for this year’s Youth Advocacy Institute, which was held February 12- 14th. YAI provides an opportunity for to speak on issues facing their communities. Students and districts practice the process of listening to student voice in the legislative process. Boards, districts, and programs benefit from hearing from our students and providing them with opportunities to build up their leadership skills.  

YAI students represented and connected with other students from Anchorage, Copper River, Denali, Juneau, Kashunamiut, Kenai, North Slope, Northwest Arctic, Sitka, Skagway, Yukon Flats, and Yupiit. 

Participants spoke with AK Department of Education and Early Development Commissioner Johnson and our panel of legislators about the challenges they identified in their communities and asked prepared questions on the issues most important to them. 

Students’ well thought out questions and our guests’ thoughtful responses led to a productive dialogue on issues facing students in our state. Students emphasized some of the needs in their school and among their peers. Student priorities included social-emotional learning and mental health, COVID policies, infrastructure, law enforcement and safety, teacher recruitment and retention, as well as funding. Here you can read some of the questions that students developed for our guests. 
Many of the issues that students identified to address were the same topics identified by their school boards. 

Participants also:
  • Reviewed HB272, HB273, and HB19, which address changes to the Base Students Allocation and limited teacher certificates for teaching Alaska Native Languages
  • Discussed how each bill might affect their communities and peers
  • Provided testimony in front of peers and legislative partners
  • Joined school board members while discussing legislative priorities for this year

School boards benefited from having student perspectives on policies and students benefited from building their confidence to be agents of change in their communities.

Click here for the full agenda of what students worked on for YAI sessions. 

The weekend packed a lot of valuable experience and our boards and legislators got to hear the experiences and ideas of the people who they are all working to provide meaningful opportunities for - our students!
YAI students close with a group photo outside the Elizabeth Peratrovich Building.
“I would like to thank you for giving me this opportunity. I came home with more knowledge on the Alaska legislative process...”YAI Student 

To continue supporting youth voice in your district, consider having a youth representative on your school board.  Youth on Boards is a great resource that can help with supporting and uplifting youth voice on our boards. Reach out to Tyler Breen (tbreen@aasb.org) for more information or support for youth leadership programming.  
Professional Learning Opportunities
R16CC Professional Book Studies with SERRC has gone live and can be found at the links below:
Looking to connect with a STEPS work group or Professional Learning Community? Check out the full schedule on the STEPS Resources page.

Lingit & Haida Language 
February 25 at 2:30pm, future meetings TBD (Lisa, lworl@aasb.org)

Postsecondary 
Alaska CAN annual statewide Conference, March 1-3
Alaska CAN SE Network, Monthly (Emily, eferry@aasb.org)

Mental Health
Monthly, (Lori, lgrassgreen@aasb.org)
April 4 & 5: Reflective Practice and Supervision - Tools to support staff working with families and students who have experienced trauma

Trauma Engaged & SEL
2nd & 4th Tuesday monthly at 10a, (Heather, hcoulehan@aasb.org)

Data Work Group
Every other Tuesday at 10, (Lauren, lhavens@aasb.org)

Regional Round-ups 
March 10th, quarterly at 3

Trauma Engaged & SEL
2nd & 4th Tuesday monthly at 10 a.m, (Heather, hcoulehan@aasb.org)

Please complete the STEPS annual gathering survey and provide your feedback on dates and comfort levels for the upcoming STEPS annual gathering meeting. 
Youth Opportunities
Looking for additional ideas? Check out the STEPS resources page for past newsletters and other STEPS-related resources.