STEPS Alaska Updates
Stepping Up for Alaska's Youth!
In Alaska, there has been significant discussion from tribal government, education, and state organizations considering how to most effectively enact self-governance compacting for the delivery of education. This means that tribal governments or designated organizations would partner directly with the state to carry out educational programs and services that school districts or the state currently provide. 

While Southeast Alaska partners are not yet compacting for education, we do know that in Southeast Alaska, families have passed down the skills that are needed to thrive since time immemorial. Tribal organizations and governments are essential to delivering culturally responsive education, improving outcomes, innovations, and educational pathways for tribal citizens.
The articles below highlight some examples of how STEPS school districts and tribal organizations are working together to improve outcomes for Southeast Alaska youth.
This edition includes:
  • Tips for Tribal School Partnerships
  • Culturally Responsive Teaching and Tribal-District Partnership
Tips for Tribal-School Partnerships
Tribes and schools have not always had an easy relationship; local politics, competition for resources, the traumatic legacy left by boarding schools and policies promoting assimilation can make it difficult to partner. 

Despite this challenging history, tribal governments and other Alaska native-serving organizations are finding new ways to work together toward the shared goal of improving the well-being of Alaska Native children and families. Several tribal partners shared their tips for partnering with schools.
Hoonah students toured fishing vessels as part of their dual enrollment Fisheries Technology course developed in partnership with the Hoonah Indian Association. Photo courtesy of Sean Williams,
Stay in Relationship: Being intentional about building strong, trusting relationships is perhaps the most important step. 

Central Council of Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s director of Cultural Heritage and Education Sarah Dybdahl recommends having consistent meetings with the school district. She notes that regular conversations are one of the best ways to build the trust and rapport needed for tackling more difficult problems.

Consistent conversations have allowed Tlingit & Haida to work with the Juneau School District on everything from helping tribal students get to and from school programs to co-leading anti-racism efforts. 

Sarah also noted that it is helpful to have a neutral facilitator. It takes time to set-up, remind, take notes and follow-up on any meeting; naming who will take on those tasks ensures that they get done and the meetings continue with regularity. A neutral host can keep the conversation focused on what’s best for kids and can feel safer, especially for those who have previously had traumatic experiences with schools.

Share Resources: This is one we’ve all heard since kindergarten. But in a world with different grants, boards, and organizational goals and policies, it can be challenging to find ways to truly share resources. 

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska and Sitka School District co-create budgets and MOAs that allow them to share resources for STEPS and other initiatives. During the pandemic STA’s Director of Organizational Development Tristan Guevin worked with the Sitka School District to create a shared budget for iPads, head phones and other devices. The school district did the purchasing for all students; tribal members will keep the devices after three years. 

The Sitka Tribe, the Sitka School District and Sitkans Against Family Violence also work together to co-create their STEPS work plan, a process that allows each partner to see how they are sharing resources, reinforcing one another's activities, and contributing to the broader goals.

Sitka Tribe of Alaska shares resources to help bring culture into schools. Photo courtesy of Keet Gooshi Heen Middle School.
Make it official: STEPS partners have also found that outlining a shared vision, agreements, funding, and roles have been helpful in Memorandum of Agreements. Tribes and school districts have worked together to develop data sharing agreements to ensure data sharing helps organizations and meets current laws and statutes. Memorandum of Agreements and other formalized documents have helped the Sitka Tribe and Sitka School District maintain partnerships even with staff transitions. At the Juneau School District MOAs allow Tlingit & Haida staff working in the school building to safely access information for the students they are working with.

Give it Time: Sharing staff time and spending the time in meetings and other relationship-building settings is a valuable gift that can strengthen partnerships.

The Sitka Tribe of Alaska teamed up with the Sitka School District and Tlingit & Haida’s Head Start program to develop the Wooch’een Preschool. It took more time than anticipated to navigate the numerous bureaucratic hurdles. Each obstacle could have easily halted the development of the innovative program. Meetings, MOAs, and working together to untangle policies took time. This commitment helped each partner to move towards their shared vision to create an innovative preschool model and improve early learning outcomes. 

Make it Relevant: More recently in Hoonah the Hoonah Indian Association partnered with the University of Alaska Southeast and Hoonah City Schools to offer college dual-enrollment courses in Fisheries Technology. HIA staff gave their time to research, build relationships, complete paperwork and coordinate the start of the program. Partners wove cultural and traditional knowledge into Fisheries Technology 120: Fisheries of Alaska iPad course through place-based learning, community leadership, scientists-in-the-schools, and engaging activities and discussions. Oceanography 101 will follow a similar formula next spring. The courses help the Tribe meet youth workforce development, climate change awareness and local leadership goals. 

Reflecting on your own partnerships: 
Do you and your partner organization have shared goals? Are you building strong relationships and sharing resources? Are your projects relevant and being given enough time to be successful? What practice might help you deepen your partnerships?
Culturally Responsive Teaching and Tribal-District Partnership
Our schools and classrooms are microcosms of our communities. And our communities are essential to the support of educating our students. With that in mind, and recognizing that Southeast Alaska’s original people of the land are the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, it stands that our tribes can and should be natural partners in place-based, culturally responsive teaching.

Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, suggests that we not think of culturally responsive teaching not as prescriptive (how to) as much as a mindset. Culturally Responsive teaching is “a way of thinking about and organizing instruction to allow for great flexibility in helps teachers understand the brain-based that we can stimulate underperforming students’ cognitive development and grow self-directed learners.” 
Zaretta Hammond with STEPS participants for an online book study of her Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. Photo courtesy of Lisa Worl
From a Tlingit cultural view, in a Alaska Journal interview with David Kingeisti Katzeek, this perspective was offered:

“Through anecdotes and lecture, Kingeisti explained how Tlingit clans are studied more for culture and not education, but this is inadequate because that "culture includes education." ...The system focuses as much on the students’ selves as much as reading and writing. One of these main points is human beings have a unique ability to learn to listen for a purpose.

"When students are taught as respected human beings instead of being talked at, and these are two different things, students will respect you and want to work and understand more," said Kingeisti.
Considering both Zaretta and Kingeisti’s points, Culturally Responsive teaching is both a way to effectively teach a student and also a way to get them excited and curious about learning. 

STEPS partnerships for Culturally Responsive Education
At the start of STEPS, our district partners began their work by hosting community dialogs. Without exception, every community, including parents, students, teaching staff and community partners, expressed their desire to prioritize culture in the schools. Each participant recognized the value of traditional knowledge itself as both relevant and valuable as a place-based source of knowledge which should be included within the school curriculum and teaching practice. Tribal organizations are essential partners for supporting our educators in becoming culturally responsive.
Community dialog participants in Angoon - Chatham School District
As we’ve entered into our fourth year of STEPS, each of our STEPS districts and our tribal partners have further developed and implemented a variety of culturally responsive activities. The scope of the activities can be viewed on a continuum. On one end of the culturally responsive spectrum, teachers are developing their capacity to integrate culturally responsive, place-based lessons into their classrooms. Further along the continuum, many tribal partners have partnered with the districts to develop culturally responsive curriculum or have developed more formal and consistent partnerships. Most recently, Tlingit oral narrative standards have been approved for use within the Juneau School district. 

Culturally responsive work is complex given the network and layers of tribal partners, however, we are starting to see more programs and projects being done through and with collaboration between districts and tribal organizations. Some programs are braiding funding, others designing programs together, or supporting teachers together. Capacity building and collaboration has been fortified through staff training using Zaretta Hammonds online, asynchronous training which was supported through monthly team meetings. The work has also been strengthened through facilitating regular meetings of Alaska Native Organization/Tribal Organizational leaders and Tlingit and Haida Language teachers.

Language revitalization work is deep culturally responsive work that has taken root in all our STEPS districts. From Xantsi Naay Preschool in Hydaburg to Dual Credit language courses offered in Chatham School District. Language revitalization has also become one of our STEPS professional learning communities where teachers are connecting across communities to support Tlingit & Haida Language teaching and providing feedback to one another on language lessons.  
The partnership between districts and tribal organizations and nonprofits has been mutually beneficial. Each organization wants our students’ to succeed academically and for their learning to be relevant and provide connection to their whole selves. District and tribal organizations, through partnership, are able to effectively coordinate the administration of programs to build the cultural teaching capacity of teachers. As the interest and the success of cultural integration grows, so does the need for more teachers who have the knowledge and understanding of culturally responsive content and curriculum. 

In actuality, culturally responsive programming existed prior to STEPS and they will continue after this program is complete. Through STEPs, however, there has been even greater coordination and regular meetings as a way to deepen collaboration and alignment and become more systematic.

If interested in joining the Tlingit & Haida Language Teachers PLC monthly meetings and/or want to register for Zaretta Hammond CRE by Design training, contact Lisa
 STEPS Regional Round-Up - The Reason Why we do This Work and How We’re Strong Together
At the November STEPS Regional Round-up, Renee Culp with Tlingit & Haida’s Navigator Program reminded us how the tribe and students build deep relationships with families, elders, cultural bearers, and the school.  

The tribe is well-positioned to build and bring in relationships into any partnership and to create support for students as they navigate their path.

STEPs partners had a robust discussion about how to bring in the voices of those with lived experience when planning, doing, and improving our programs. To learn more, check out the slides or listen to the recording
Virtual Youth Leadership Institute Registration is Open Now!
Summer internships at Sealaska
Sealaska will be offering the option for in-person and telecommuting internships for Sealaska shareholders and their descendants. Students will be able to apply your education through practical experience in the field and corporate environment. Applicants are now open and will be accepted through January 24th. Prospective interns can apply here

Free books for families with Imagination Library
Families of any children age 0 to 5 can sign-up for Imagination Library. Each month they receive an age-appropriate book in the mail with literacy tips at no cost. You can encourage families to enroll by including the registration forms in your enrollment packets or placing them at the library, posting on social media, or including reminders in newsletters. Email for more info.

Parents as Teachers is available across Southeast Alaska
This free home visiting program is now available virtually to families across Southeast Alaska. If you know families of young children who could benefit from monthly coaching and support you can fill out this brief referral form or contact
Becoming Ourselves Plant Medicine (Click to register) - Monday evenings in November from 6-7 on Zoom.. In this 5-week workshop series, participants will learn about Alaskan plants, gain new appreciation and understanding of Indigenous ways, while strengthening relationships with the land and community. Activities include wild tea and tea making, plant medicine and harvesting guidelines, storytelling, song, and movement, with the purpose of creating a space for wellness and learning.

STEPS Events and Dates

Check out the STEPS resources page for the latest listing of work group and professional learning community meetings. We’ve also listed upcoming due dates, and links to past newsletters and recordings.

These are a few of the ongoing opportunities to connect and learn: 

Lingit & Haida Language 2nd Monday at 3:30 (Lisa,

Healthy Schools Learning Collaborative
November 16, Tuesday at 3:30 (Heather,

Postsecondary (Alaska CAN) 
1st Wednesday at 10 a.m. (Emily,

Mental Health
Monthly, second Monday of the month at 11:00 (Lori,

Trauma Engaged & SEL
2nd & 4th Tuesday monthly at 10a.m. (Heather,
Looking for additional ideas? Check out the STEPS resources page for past newsletters and other STEPS-related resources.