STEPS Alaska Updates
Stepping Up for Alaska's Youth!
Tlingit & Haida’s Navigator’s Program is one of several programs that is striving to help students understand who they are, where they are from so they can know where they are headed. Photo courtesy of Renee Culp
Since time immemorial, Alaskans have been teaching their children the skills needed to survive and thrive in our unique environments. Those skills may look different in modern society, but research indicates that connecting to culture, family, and community values is a powerful way to motivate students to pursue training and education.

In fact, research indicates that Alaska Native college students who view their cultural identity as a strength actually have higher GPAs! In this newsletter we’ll explore how helping students understand who they are and where they are headed can help build the foundation for a vibrant future.  
This edition includes:
  • Helping students prepare for life after high school
  • Data shows disconnect between available jobs and Alaskans who are ready for them; it also points to things we can do to help more students get ready
  • Helping students prepare by strengthening cultural identity... and providing scholarships
  • UAS finds success with student-focused initiatives
Helping students prepare for life after high school
When Mount Edgecumbe Superintendent Janelle Vanasse was pursuing her doctorate she discovered that Alaska Native college students who viewed their cultural identity as a strength actually had higher GPAs.

It turns out that “Identity” is a critical and often overlooked element of college readiness. Harvard Professor Mandy Savitz-Romer writes in her book Ready, Willing, and Able that opportunities to develop identity and motivation are often missing from postsecondary access programs. She explains that students first need to be able to envision their future and believe that college or career training is a real possibility.

By fostering a strong sense of cultural identity - who you are, where you are from, and where you are headed - STEPS partners are helping to create a stronger bridge to postsecondary. To this end, STEPS partners are working on the Postsecondary Bridging Framework to map and plan how schools, families, and communities can support students transition in a more holistic way.

Alaska’s Bridging Framework links postsecondary opportunities to meaningful work in a student’s home community and beyond. The framework emphasizes three elements of support; Identity, Navigation, and Academic Preparedness. 
The Framework outlines a way to systemically support each student in 6th through 12th grade to understand themselves and their goals. It is grounded in a holistic approach that builds on a range of mentoring, life, and academic experiences to foster the confidence and skills (navigation), sense of self (identity), and preparation (academics) needed to successfully pursue postsecondary opportunities. The Framework also takes an ecosystem approach acknowledging that family members, school staff, peers, other supportive adults, and even the school environment influence and support these experiences. 
If you’re not sure where to get started, Mount Edgecumbe Superintendent Janelle Vanasse has made it easy for schools to assess how they are building on cultural identity as a strength. The “Rethinking Readiness” assessment tool is available for free at   

And if you’d like to get involved with piloting and refining the Bridging Framework, contact Emily Ferry,
Data shows disconnect between available jobs and Alaskans who are ready for them; it also points to things we can do to help more students get ready
The Alaska Department of Labor predicts that 65% of jobs in Alaska will require a postsecondary degree or credential by 2025. However, only 54% of working age Alaskans and just 39% of people who are Alaska Native have those degrees and credentials according to the Alaska Department of Labor. Many employers say they cannot find teachers, healthcare workers, technicians, and tradespeople to fill job openings. 

Meanwhile Alaska also has the highest rate of disconnected youth - young adults between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither working nor in school - of any state, according to Measure of America. Alaska is also last in the nation when it comes to the number of high school graduates who enroll, persist and complete college. 

In other words, there is a disconnect between the jobs that are available and the Alaskans who are ready or getting ready to step into those roles. 

The data on Alaska’s postsecondary outcomes is startling and disheartening. Yet if it can inspire us to take action, it’s important to consider and share. 

It will take close to a decade to know whether interventions in high school or even middle school have an impact on postsecondary graduation and work readiness. However, the School Climate and Connectedness Survey can give us some more immediate feedback. 
On the survey, 6th-12th graders are asked if they want very much to pursue more education after high school. In 2021 only two-thirds of STEPS middle and high school students said yes. Nationally that number is often closer to 90%. 

How might our long term outcomes change if we can inspire more students to think about and plan for life after high school as early as sixth grade?

Is cost the issue? No and yes. According to the Commission on Postsecondary Education, Alaska’s students face one of the lowest cost burdens in the nation (meaning it costs less for Alaskans to go to college.) There are numerous scholarships available, including the Alaska Performance Scholarship (APS). 

However, a recent study evaluating the APS found that many of the students who could benefit from the scholarship were ineligible, often due to outdated testing requirements or lack of accessibility. When the testing requirement was removed during the pandemic, the number of Alaska Native students who were eligible more than doubled, the number of eligible black students tripled, and the number of eligible Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students quadrupled. 

Other factors that resulted in ineligibility for students included not meeting curriculum requirements or simply not knowing that the scholarship exists until it was too late in their high school career to meet the requirements. The report makes a number of recommendations for improving equity of access to the APS.

Alaskan students are also leaving federal financial aid dollars on the table. According to Form Your Future the rate of Alaskan students submitting the free application for federal financial aid is 50th in the nation.  
Helping students prepare by strengthening cultural identity... and providing scholarships
Alaska Native tribes and organizations offer a variety of programs for helping students connect and learn cultural knowledge, skills and history. Cultural learning offers students both a lens to understand their own interests and also open their eyes to possible career pathways after high school. 

Tlingit & Haida’s Navigators Program offers after school programming for youth ages 13 to 24 to help strengthen cultural connectedness and life skills. Contact program lead Renee Culp to learn more,

Goldbelt Heritage developed the Dream Navigators curriculum which features traditional stories shared by David Kingeisti Katzeek blended with college and career navigation tools. 

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) also has a program, Haa Latseen Initiative, which offers support in nine communities across Southeast. Through a variety of activities, SHI supports partnering communities and school districts in increasing Native students' social-emotional wellbeing, cultural knowledge, and post-secondary education and career goals.
Last year Sitka hosted a virtual career fair on Instagram that centered on stories of Alaska Native students. This year STEPS partners are hoping to make similar events happen in person including a job fair in Yakutat and college fairs that feature tribal colleges.
Scholarships and training

In addition to the Alaska Performance Scholarship, many Alaska Native tribal, regional and village organizations and corporations, ANB/ANS offer scholarships. The CIRI Foundation compiled opportunities from around the state in its Education Resources Handbook. Beyond scholarships for traditional college paths, students can look to local unions for apprenticeship programs in areas such as marine transportation, applied fisheries, construction technology, electric engineering, and welding which can offer both scholarship and training opportunities.

Filling the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is an important step for receiving any university or college scholarship funding. The application opens October 1st and must be filed by June 30th prior to the start of school the following school year. It can be a daunting process for students and parents alike. However, the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education provides multiple supports for accessing Financial Aid including FAFSA Wednesdays, a free opportunity to drop in via zoom from 3 to 6pm every Wednesday. ACPE can also schedule a FAFSA event with you. 

The financial aid and recruitment team at UAS can also help. Reach out to STEPS liaison Tina Ryman,, to set up an event to help families and students complete the FAFSA. Some suggestions, file early, consider which schools to include if filing for first time while applying to schools, and have your income tax papers nearby. College funding is offered on first-come, first serve so it helps to file your FAFSA early.

SERRC offers a variety of scholarships for anyone who is 16 and older and is interested in the trades, including construction, mining and certified nursing assistants. Contact Karragh Arndt to learn more,
UAS finds success with student-focused initiatives
This past year the University of Alaska launched an Alaska Native Student Success Initiative. Steering committee member and former Hydaburg student Sarah Peele talked about her experiences in this KTOO story. 

This is one of several initiatives UAS is taking on to help more students make it to graduation. The Retention Through Intervention program focuses on coaching faculty members to proactively reach out to students in introductory courses. And the Successful Scholars program offers additional support for first time freshmen who are the first in their families to attend college, qualify as low income or identify as Alaska Native. 

Tina Ryman recently talked with Successful Scholars participants about what was working and what was hard. Students said they struggled with time management, tracking assignments, and staying motivated, but they also had some positive experiences to report; students overwhelmingly mentioned that their interactions with instructors were surprisingly positive. Many were grateful and surprised that some of their instructors reached out to them to let them know that they were missing assignments and were in danger of receiving a failing grade. 

These strategies seem to be making a difference. A remarkable 92% of students enrolled in the Successful Scholars program returned to UAS or another UA school this semester.

To find out more about how students you are working with can enroll in the Successful Scholars program, contact Tina Ryman,
Youth Opportunities
Youth Advocacy Institute (YAI)
Saturday, February 12 – Monday, February 14

YAI is designed for high school students, especially sophomores and juniors, who want to be immersed in the Alaska legislative process.

Participants will:
  • Learn how a bill becomes a law.
  • Discuss key legislative issues influencing education this year.
  • Participate in mock testimony, and advocate for legislation (alongside their school board) that affects them and their communities, all for public education.
The Summer Academy at UAS is an opportunity to take a step toward a college degree or career certification. The condensed courses are tailored to high school students. 

Students may receive dual credit (credits that count toward both high school graduation and a college degree or certification) depending on the course.  

Funding to cover the cost of the courses, as well as travel and housing, is available for eligible students. The Summer Academy sessions are sponsored by Central Council Tlingit Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, University of Alaska Southeast, SERRC, and the Association of Alaska School Boards and is supported by the US Department of Education Promise Neighborhood STEPS grant. Additionally, Sealaska Heritage Institute is working with UAS to offer several summer academies.

Tina Ryman is surveying STEPS school districts about course topics and timing. Thanks for taking a moment to respond to the survey or reaching out to Tina at
Professional Learning Opportunities
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 
2nd Monday at 3:30 (Lisa,

Alaska CAN SE Network, February 2 (Emily, 
Alaska CAN annual statewide Conference, March 1-3

Mental Health
Monthly, (Lori,
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 Tues monthly at 10a, (Heather,

Data Work Group
Every other Tues at 10, (Lauren,

Regional Round-ups 
March 10th, quarterly at 3

Trauma Engaged & SEL
2nd & 4th Tues monthly at 10a, (Heather,

Data Work Group
Every other Tues at 10, (Lauren,

Regional Round-ups 
March 10th, quarterly at 3

Thoughtful Thursdays
In the midst of the stresses this new year has brought, it can be challenging to even remember to breathe. Does that feel familiar? Learning strategies to build our own stress and compassion resilience can help us take care of ourselves and take care of each other.

Vanessa Shannon with DEED and Heather Coulehan (AASB) are hosting a four part series called Building Skills for Resilience and Connection. We’ll be meeting at 4pm on Thursdays in February (Feb 3, 10, 17, and 24) for a brief 30-45 minute session (we’re cleverly calling these sessions Thoughtful Thursdays!). 

We'll do a bit of learning together, experience a guided mindfulness practice and then wrap up connecting in community. The focus is a video series with Dr. Vanessa Meade from the UAA Social Work Department, which includes the guided practice.  

Thoughtful Thursday Registration Link: 
Regional Round-up Review
At the Regional Round-up Earlier this month we explored different ways of sharing stories. We heard from Tess Olympia with Baby Raven Reads about how they have been able to link tangible gains in reading scores to participation in the culturally based early literacy program. And we practiced sharing our own stories about the value of collaboration and the slow and sometimes hard to see work of systems change. You can check out the recording here.
Looking for additional ideas? Check out the STEPS resources page for past newsletters and other STEPS-related resources.