STEPS Alaska Updates
Stepping Up for Alaska's Youth!
Photo credit: Courtesy photo Bob Armstrong, Juneau Empire
Youth Leadership - “Serving my generation with excellence will in turn mean my generation can lead with excellence.” ― Onyi Anyado
Welcome to fall! Kei kunas.áat’ (it’s getting cold) and classes are in full swing. With students back in the classroom, students have shared they feel both excited and more anxious than they did in the past.  

Along with staff, student leaders can create a positive and supportive school and community climate. Students can also help to create a caring school community. 

This month we take a look at youth leadership and youth voice. Our STEPs partners share resources, AASB shares student perspectives from the school climate surveys, and partners share ideas on how to build in youth leadership and student voice in Southeast Alaska.

Help students get connected to youth leadership opportunities coming up in the next quarter. 

In this Issue:

  • Culture, Connection, and Created Space: AWARE’s Programs Help Bolster Youth Leadership
  • Youth Development work is PostSecondary Preparation
  • Improving Sense of Belonging
  • NAMI: Strengthening Cultural Protective Factors and Supporting Connection
  • Youth Insights - STEPS Regional School Climate Results
  • Virtual Youth Leadership Institute Registration is Open Now!
  • Opportunities and Upcoming events
  • Sitka’s Youth Leadership Committee: Working with Adults to Support Youth

Culture, Connection, and Created Space: AWARE’s Programs Help Bolster Youth Leadership
Images from AWARE’s Youth Messaging Campaign
Young leaders are best able to step into their leadership roles when we create an environment that accepts, supports, and connects them. AWARE's programs over the last year have brought students together to elevate their voice and create spaces for students and adults to reflect on the environment they are creating for each student. 

In particular, AWARE has been supporting students to develop a youth messaging campaign focused on the key message to students that they belong. You can see examples below that include messages that “You Belong Here” and “i tóo yéi yatee/it is within you”. These messages are embedded and echoed by AWARE’s teen support group, honoring resiliency group, and BIPOC teen talk group, giving students both consistent messaging and peer to peer support.
Supportive adults play a huge role in creating an environment for youth leaders to flourish. AWARE also works with supportive adults to help create an inclusive environment. This past year Haa Tooch Licheesh put on an anti-racism inservice training. Over 555 attendees took part in the training, giving them space to discuss and reflect on anti-racism in their classroom. When students feel safe, accepted, welcomed, and that they belong in the classroom, they have the conditions to fully engage. 

Whether working with your own students using these resources, or to deepen your work around culturally sustaining content and anti-racism, you find more at or by reaching out to them at

Youth Development work is Post-Secondary Preparation
When we foster youth leadership and help tweens and teens explore dimensions of their identity, we are also helping them prepare for life after high school. Students that can know who they are and can actualize their goals are more likely to follow their pursuits. 

Heading off to college or starting on a career path doesn’t just start with filling out an application. Harvard Professor Mandy Savitz-Romer writes that the process starts with envisioning our future selves and believing it is possible. Youth leadership opportunities and activities that help youth explore - and reconcile - aspects of their identity are critical steps to helping students prepare for their postsecondary journey. 

How well is your community doing when it comes to helping students explore their cultural identity and navigate the postsecondary preparation process? Find out by taking a simple assessment created by Mt. Edgecumbe Superintendent Janelle Vanasse at
Youth leadership, cultural programs, and authentic student centered programming can help students understand who they are, where they are from, and how to try out new and challenging roles. This can help prepare them to achieve their goals after high school.
Improving Sense of Belonging
Panorama Education recently shared some of their insights on students’ sense of belonging from focus groups and surveys. Below are a few of their key takeaways and tips for strengthening students’ sense of belonging:

  • First impressions matter: are teachers sharing the syllabus and diving straight into content or getting to know their students? Students said they know if they’ll connect with a teacher or not by day 1 or 2.
  • Build relationships: Many students said they go through a whole day at school without hearing their name. Saying a student’s name correctly is a good step forward.
  • Build connection: Building community happens when students feel connected with one another. Just because the teacher knows them doesn’t mean they know one another. Give students time to get to know each other’s names. 
  • Ongoing building of positive classroom climate: Pep rallies and assemblies don’t build community. They won’t hurt, but aren’t going to make a sudden change. Change needs to occur at the teacher level. 
  • Focus on shared spaces: The lunch room is either where students feel they belong the most or the least. School staff can help by making spaces for students to feel welcomed and included during lunch.

With the excitement and stress of being back in person, these tips can help us start the school year in a welcoming and supportive way.
NAMI: Strengthening Cultural Protective Factors and Supporting Connection
NAMI is working on ways to uplift youth voices and take action on what they hear. Robert Stephenson shared some of NAMI’s current work, helpful resources, and some tangible ways that Sources of Strength works supports student success in Juneau. 

Significant research indicates that culturally specific protective factors and cultural connectedness promotes the mental health of Indigenous youth and improves sense of self, self-efficacy, and school connectedness for indigenous youth. 

Some of the national and regional cultural connectedness resources that the NAMI team has used to get started includes:

NAMI staff and students are identifying cultural protective factors that are relevant to Juneau youth, such as supportive adult relationships, a healing centered understanding of history, and cultural identity. They are using what they find to tailor their programming so they can best serve Indigenous youth. Some of their recent programs include:

  • The Inside Passage Speaker Series presented speakers and workshops on cultural protective factors that help to strengthen youth. The speaker series included a “History and Hope”, an Alaska Resilience Initiative training that introduces the concept of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and addresses the question "Why are ACEs so adverse, and what can we do about it?" The series also included a Question, Persuade, Refer training to teach people without professional mental health backgrounds to recognize the signs that someone may be self-harming.
  • The NAMI Basics program, which provides a free, six-week program for parents and other family caregivers of youth with emotional and behavioral difficulties. The program helps parents and guardians understand the illnesses that are causing those behavioral difficulties, and the critical role families play in the treatment of those illnesses.
  • Their current schedule of family and connections support groups, which provide online support for people affected by mental illness.

The NAMI team has also been building on the idea of respect, contribution and connectedness to improve outcomes for Sources of Strength students.

Caring adults within the community and school are essential to supporting youth voice and ensuring that youth can fully engage in a program. Within NAMI’s Sources of Strength Program, youth are compensated for participating in some roles. This is a way to respect the time, effort, and financial challenges of our youth, particularly youth of color and from low-income families.

Maintaining connection with recent graduates and Sources of Strength alumni provides much needed continuity in the program for both the graduate and the current high school students, and also provides a small source of income for the college student. One of the Sources of Strength students who graduated high school last year and then enrolled in the local university is now a part-time employee for this year's Sources of Strength program.
Youth Insights from the STEPS School Climate Survey
While there is a lot to be said about direct student engagement, the School Climate and Connectedness Survey (SCCS) can be another great way to understand youth perspectives. Because the survey is confidential, comprehensive, and reaches a wide cross-section of youth in our communities, it offers insight into areas that may be harder to capture directly from students.

What are students saying about their experiences in and outside of school?

STEPS youth generally feel more positively about school climate compared to the rest of the state. Take a look at the publicly available STEPS SCCS Results Page

Below are data highlights from the 2021 6th-12th grade survey.

  • Connection during COVID - STEPS youth felt supported by adults at their school during COVID-19 but disconnected from their peers. However, rural students (from Chatham, Hoonah, Hydaburg, and Yakutat) felt more connected to their peers than urban students (from Sitka and Juneau).
Virtual Youth Leadership Institute Registration is Open Now!
There’s a lot of work going on across STEPS districts to bolster youth leadership and it shows! When students can connect across communities and across the state, their confidence in leading grows. Districts benefit from the opportunity to hear directly about the challenges students face and what supports help them. At YLI 2021, students will practice and have access to tools to effectively advocate for positive change in their schools and communities.

This year’s Virtual Youth Leadership Institute is taking place December 3rd-5th with guest speakers Liz Sunnyboy and Keggulluk and many others. Students will be part of workshops that focus on resilience, storytelling and advocating for positive change. Students will also work with Alaska Teen Media Institute to produce a video showcasing their experiences over the past two years, supports that helped and things they wish school board members knew. Students will also take part in a statewide scavenger hunt which will connect them with peers across the state and will also give them the chance to win one of three iPads!

Students typically register through their school district, but community partners are encouraged to identify and sponsor students who would benefit from and enjoy the institute. Registration is open to districts here for $295/ student. For some students registration costs can be covered by school districts, so feel free to reach out to AASB to find out more. 

Connect with Tyler Breen ( for more information.
Youth Leading Racial Healing is a leadership and service opportunity supporting youth-designed projects that promote racial equity, healing, and cultural awareness. The Challenge provides young people (ages 13-19) across the U.S. with the opportunity to identify a need in their communities related to racial healing and apply for a $250 grant to support a service project.

Example projects include, but are not limited to:
  • establishing a school anti-racism committee
  • hosting a school or club meeting focused on an important cultural holiday
  • creating informational resources to raise awareness about an important issue
  • bolstering the availability of books and resources by racially and ethnically diverse authors in a local library

Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis until limited funds are allocated. You can access the application here.

The application takes between 15 and 30 minutes to complete. Please feel free to reach out to us at with any questions.
Upcoming events:

  • November 1, 10am, Post-Secondary Preparation Bridging Framework work session, Wednesday,  
  • November 2, (3:30 -4:30) Trauma Engaged Schools New Resources Milestones, “Knowing to Doing” Video Library, and Social Media
  • November 3-4, POWER Conference & Job Fair   
  • November 7, 10am, Virtual Scholarship Workshop: Tlingit & Haida’s Navigators Program invites tribal citizens (freshmen in high school to age 27) to their upcoming virtual scholarship workshop. Registration at 
  • November 8: 1:00-2:00, Culturally Responsive Mental Health / Intergenerational Healing Workgroup
  • November 12: 11:00-12:00 Mental Health Consultation
  • November 15-17, (apply by October 30) Spruce Root’s Master Class for the New Economy 
  • College Fairs and College Readiness/How to pay for college events - lots of things happening; keep an eye out for more information or
  • November 16, Review of the Post-Secondary Bridging Framework with a statewide network of counselors
  • December 1, 10am Alaska CAN regional meeting
  • Outer Coast Spring Semester 2022- Learn more here (apply by October 31)
Looking for additional ideas? Check out the STEPS resources page for past newsletters and other STEPS-related resources.
Please join us for the next 
STEPS Regional Round-up
Wednesday, November 10th from 3 to 5 P.M.
At our last regional round-up we focused on using data to drive change. This time we will focus on a different aspect of Collective Impact; bringing in the voices of those with lived experiences. Or, as some like to say "nothing about us without us". 

We heard your request for more time together; we will start at 3 p.m. and end at 5 p.m. to allow more space for the rich conversations and connections. We also changed the date to Wednesday, November 10th to avoid Veterans Day. 

And if you missed the last session, slides from the September Regional Round-up are available here, and video recording is available here.