STEPS Alaska Updates
Stepping Up for Alaska's Youth!
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COVID-19: Adapting and Innovating in Education
Alaska Smart Start 2020

COVID-19 has changed so much about how education looks, but Alaska’s Smart Start Framework Guidance and each Smart Start school plan gives us a glimpse of how communities are making decisions about safely operating during the pandemic and how educational priorities are shifting.  
Most school plans include some possibility of returning to remote learning and include ways to address connectivity, devices, home-supports, and mental health access. Schools and families have identified these as essential services. In addition, schools are revisiting their distance strategies for building caring relationships with students and families. Schools and partners are using strategies outlined in Contact, Connectivity, Relationships and Participation framework helpful for insights on attendance, absenteeism, and classroom 

STEPS partners, both in the schools and outside, are adapting in the face of uncertainty and are using innovative approaches to meet the needs of community members. Partners are using online platforms, social media, and at home activity kits to reach and connect more families and students. It is truly inspiring to see how our partners and communities continue to come together to reach their students and families. A few examples are included below. 

Reaching more places
AEYC’s Parents As Teachers
Offering programs on virtual platforms has allowed AEYC’s Parents As Teachers program to enroll families from more locations across Southeast. If families didn't have a device to participate in the virtual home visits, a low-cost option was made available to help them get connected. If you know of families with children 0-5 who may be interested in enrolling, they can learn more about the free program at 789-1235, [email protected].

Reaching more people
Tlingit MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) from Outer Coast 
The MOOC is connecting approximately 170+ regular participants on a platform for people to use, learn and teach Lingít in a safe environment that promotes language use and correcting with kindness. Hosted by X’unei Lance Twichell with guest teaching by several of Líingit language teachers including Daaljíni Mary Folletti and Kashgé Daphne Wright who’ve shared their lessons and resources with the group. If you missed the virtual lessons, they were recorded and are available with several other resources on the Lingît Yoo X’atángi website.  
Using new tools to stay connected to old ways
Yakutat Summer Explorers & #OldWaysSummerDay 
Putting locally-developed resources into the hands of families via kits, guides, and scavenger hunts has helped families support learning in meaningful ways that are connected to place and culture. Some examples include the #OldWaysSummerDays campaign from Tlingit & Haida and Yakutat’s weekly Summer Explorers camp guides.

A Yakutat Summer Explorer participating in a modified version of camp. Photo: Nadia Dermish
Bridging the digital divide
Digital Access in Sitka 
A collaboration between the Sitka School District, Sitka Tribe of Alaska, and the Sitka Borough helped ensure equity of access to digital devices for all students. The group opted for LTE enabled-Ipads to allow for students to connect to online resources regardless of home internet connectivity.

Making it fun
#TongassTime - A Distracting Hour of Entertainment for Southeast Youth 
Every Wednesday from 11:00am – 12:15pm you can find culturally relevant stories, entertainers, and performers on TongassTime’s zoom webinar. Filled with art, music, and weekly drawings for prizes, TongassTime has been a welcome respite from the summer news headlines. They are happy have more families join them Wednesdays at

Keeping the competitive spirit alive
Virtual NYO
While the Native Youth Olympics couldn’t be held in person this year, the NYO spirit still shone with athletes participating in Alaskan High Kick, Two-Foot High Kick, Scissor Broad Jump, Kneel Jump, One-Foot High Kick, One-Hand Reach, Seal Hop, and Toe Kick by sending in videos of their performances for judges to evaluate.  

Getting Ready for transitions
Introducing Kindergarten via video
AEYC-SEA teamed up with teachers, administrators, and community partners in Juneau to create the Welcome to Kindergarten video that helps students and families get ready for kindergarten. The short video reassures parents and kids alike that it will be ok and what they can expect in the year ahead.

This is just a small sampling of the innovative solutions Alaskan have been developing. If you have an idea or opportunity to share, please send it to Tyler Breen at [email protected]

As for the school year ahead, we know that the situation continues to evolve. The Juneau and Sitka School Districts have each posted their latest plans on their websites. The Alaska Afterschool Network has also put together guidance for how out of school programs can safely support students and schools this fall. Thanks to partners for holding up our students and families during these times.

Place Based Learning

While COVID has redefined what it means to incorporate your “place” into learning, districts have still been pushing forward with innovative ways to bring local environment, culture, and resources into our new “classrooms”. The Place-Based Learning professional learning community met virtually on June 24th. Juneau School District Integration Specialist, Elizabeth Kent, showed her process for developing place-based curricula. Partners across the southeast were able to engage in a conversation that puts local culture and resources at the forefront of lesson planning. Heather Powell from Hoonah noted that when she is in the classroom "I try my best to teach the core curriculum in our language to normalize it... creating the periodic table of elements in Tlingit and making those resources available.” The group agreed it was important to have a place to share those resources across classrooms.

You can watch the full recorded conversation here and view the conversation presentation with Elizibeth’s insights here. If you would like resources or support in place-based initiatives at your school, contact Tyler Breen ([email protected])! 
The Place-Based Learning professional learning community is one of several STEPS learning communities. As we plan for the year ahead, we’d love to know what learning communities and work groups you are most interested in joining. Thanks for taking a moment to fill out this form.
School Climate & Connectedness in time of Covid-19

The importance of school climate does not stop when you leave a “brick and mortar” school. Feeling safe, connected, and welcomed is all about relationships – which extend well beyond a school building. It is even more important now for students and staff to experience a positive school climate and for schools to receive insights into school community perceptions. 

STEPS communities are using the 2020 School Climate & Connectedness Survey (SCCS) to identify key areas to work on during COVID-19 school start up. Some of the data points are shared below for the STEPs partner footprint. 

Trauma Engaged Schools: Staff Survey 

The 2020 staff survey included new questions on Relationships, SEL, and Trauma Engaged Schools. While 96% of STEPS community staff felt they had an understanding of trauma and students, there were a few other data points that could help direct focus areas. 

  • 69% STEPS (66% statewide) staff agreed that “there are support systems to respond to trauma experienced by students.”

  • 69% reported that, “I know specific skills and strategies I can use to help students who have experienced trauma to do well in our school.”

  • 37% of certified staff, 57% of classified staff, reported that, “I feel worn out by work in ways that interfere with other parts of my life.”

There has been much talk about additional stress and trauma during Covid-19. Your SCCS staff data can help determine where to focus professional learning for trauma engaged schools and supports. Are your staff interested in learning more about school-wide practices or specific instructional strategies? What are your staff fatigue levels? Is there an opportunity to work with your staff to identify support systems and ways they can attend to self-care?

Family Survey: Family support with school work 

STEPS communities have access to family survey results that can help inform family partnership and classroom practices. The survey includes questions about Internet access, teacher-family meeting cadence, and family contributions to decision-making in the school. These topics and other key questions in the survey can serve as guideposts for schools as they work closely with families in the 2021 school year.
COVID-19 is requiring families to participate in their child's learning in more specific ways. However, in 2020 we can see a range of responses to the question, “How often do you help your child with school work?”. This helps us know that many families may have been unprepared and inexperienced in helping their child with school work on a regular basis. There may be some foundational tools and training needed for families. What resources is your school or organization dedicating to orienting and partnering with families?

Relationships with Students: Staff and Student Survey 

  • 59% STEPS (70% statewide) of staff agreed that every student at their school has an adult who will miss them when they are absent
  • 45% STEPS (43% statewide) of students agreeing that they have a teacher or some other adult who will miss then when absent

During in-person time, 59% of STEPS staff report agree with the statement that "every student at their school has an adult who will miss them when they are absent". When we compare that finding to student responses, only 45% of students in STEPS communities agree with the same statement. How do you think this will be impacted during Covid-19? What in-person and distance strategies can be used to ensure that students feel connected to caring adults?

What you can do 

  • If you haven't already, review your school and district data, available through the Alaska Statewide Results. Each district has a unique public link to access results. Contact your district leaders for this link, or AASB staff.
  • Think about how you can use this information in your STEPS partnership.
  • Bring together your partners to explore results together
  • Work with Jenni Lefing jlefing@ and the AASB team to to review, find strategies, and make the most of your school climate data.
STEPS Community Resources
Alaska Smart Start 2020: Summer Summit

August 4-27
The Alaska Smart Start 2020 Summer Summit is a virtual, multi-day professional development event starting August 4, 2020, and running through August 27, 2020, with a bonus pre-session on August 3rd. The Summer Summit seeks to create a variety of spaces for people to connect, enhancing the collective wisdom for K12 education in Alaska. Your entire school teams can register and there will be workshops on Trauma Engaged Schools, Family Partnership and other topics relevant to STEPS communities.
For Teachers, Administrators, Faculty & Community Members

Sealaska Heritage Institute is putting on its third education conference for teachers and administrators in Southeast Alaska in an effort to promote culturally responsive education. Due to Covid, the event will be held virtually August 6-8! The goal of the conference is to increase educators' understanding and use of culturally-responsive education and equip them to transform their classrooms and curriculum to fully support all students’ success. The conference will feature national and Alaska keynote speakers and offer workshops on a variety of topics, including early childhood education, the impact of trauma on learning, and strategies for addressing within your school or classroom. Check out the breakout session schedule for opportunities to join sessions hosted by STEPS partners and the AASB team. 
Successful Scholars

August 18-20
For incoming freshmen at UAS

The Successful Scholars Program is designed to help incoming freshmen who are Alaska Native, first-generation, low income, and/or underrepresented students feel at home at the University of Alaska Southeast. During the three-day program - and throughout the year - Successful Scholars will have the opportunity to develop deep connections with peers, faculty, and staff while learning new skills to help navigate life after high school. Travel to UAS from the students’ home communities will be provided. 
UA Advantage Program

Dual Enrollment for high school students 

The University of Alaska is now making online dual enrollment courses easy to access through its Advantage Program. Courses are taught by professors at UAF and UAS. Classes begin August 24th.
AVTEC Senior Year to Career 

Alaska Vocation Technical Center (AVTEC) is now allowing high school seniors to enroll in training at AVTEC and earn employment credential during their final year of high school. The Senior Year to Career program provides high school students who have completed all credits necessary to graduate or who are very close to graduation, to enroll in AVTEC training programs to build job skills, earn workforce credentials and prepare for employment upon graduation.
For more information visit or contact AVTEC admissions at (907) 224-3322.
Supporting Transitions and Educational Promise is a Collective Impact effort between regional partners and partners in Angoon, Hoonah, Hydaburg, Juneau, Klukwan, Sitka, and Yakutat which strives to improve outcomes for Southeast Alaska’s youth. We aim to do that by:
  • Ensuring that all kids - from womb to world - are safe and supported in their schools, homes, and communities
  • Partnering to smooth transitions, fill gaps, and align existing resources
  • Collaborating to move the needle on key measures

STEPS Alaska is made possible by the US Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods funding award to the Association of Alaska School Boards

The US Department of Education Promise Neighborhood Grant U215N170038 supports cradle to career solutions for the STEPS AK partners. This publication is the sole responsibility of the Association of Alaska School Boards and its contributors.