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AK: Community connects with Kodiak High School


Boat-building students weld twenty-four-foot aluminum boat that will be raffled at Kodiak's annual Crab Festival.

Summary: This remote district builds and maintains local community partnerships and uses a proven school improvement plan (overseen by the Association of Alaska School Boards) to help drive student success. One element of the plan focuses on developmental assets that help students become not only successful academically, but responsible adults as well. Improved student performance has earned one school in the district a Blue Ribbon School designation from the U.S. Department of Education. This is "proof," school leaders say, "that Kodiak's comunity engagements efforts have taken hold." 

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Fishing is the economic lifeblood of Kodiak, Alaska, whether you’re the skipper of a multi-million dollar commercial fishing vessel heading out to the Bering Sea, or a shift-worker at the cannery, hoping for overtime pay. Rugged and remote, Kodiak is home to Alaska’s largest fishing fleet. It’s also home to more than 800 teenagers at Kodiak High School. So how do these worlds connect?

When it came time to pass down his Alaskan boat-building business to his son Jimmy, Tom Emerson had one stipulation: Treat the community the same way he did over the years. That included helping kids at Kodiak High School learn how to build boats—big twenty-four-foot aluminum boats, seaworthy and suited for life at this stormy edge of the Gulf of Alaska.

Students in boat-building class work all year on a single craft, then raffle it off at Kodiak’s annual Crab Festival. Last year, community members bought one thousand tickets at $30 each. “The profits are plowed back into the program,” says teacher Anthony Cavan. In the three-year welding/boat-building program, students can get dual credit with Kodiak College, part of the University of Alaska. Although Cavan developed the program, he quickly says,

District Characteristics

Name: Kodiak QS2

State: Alaska

Type: Rural

Grades: Pre-k–12

Enrollment: 2,697

Students per teacher: 15.7 District Characteristics Name: Kodiak QS2 State: Alaska Type: Rural Grades: Pre-k–12 Enrollment: 2,697 Students per teacher: 15.7

Enrollment Characteristics

Economically disadvantaged: 33.7%

English language learners: 16.3%

Students with disabilities: 15.2%

White: 45.7%

Black: 1.2%

Hispanic: 6.7%

Asian/Pacific Islander: 23.4%

American Indian/Alaska Native: 23%

Other: n.a.

Source: www.schoolmatters.com

“No way I could have done this without community support.” A local welding shop donates the oxygen and parts. The Rotary Club and other businesses promote the raffle.

For years, Tom (and now Jimmy) has shared his welding and boat-building skills with the teenagers. “I love building boats, and I like giving every kid a taste of doing that,” says Jimmy, who volunteers about ten hours a month. One student who has gotten more than a taste for boat-building is senior Creston DuPont. With good skills in fabricating, welding (he’ll be a certified welder in May), and cutting, DuPont plans to join the Air Force after graduation.

Such local partnerships (the high school has thirty-two of them, from the housing authority to churches and businesses) help drive student success on Kodiak Island. “Part of the QS2 [Quality Schools/Quality Students] philosophy is to have the school system work with community,” explains Laurie Busness, director of curriculum. QS2 is a school improvement service overseen by the Association of Alaska School Boards (AASB). One of its elements is the Alaska Initiative for Community Engagement (ICE), which focuses on the 40 Developmental Assets model for building internal and external attributes that help young people become successful adults. Research by the Search Institute of Minnesota identified the 40 Assets—concrete, commonsense qualities essential to helping young people grow up to be successful adults. The more assets young people have, the more likely they are to succeed in school.

Two times each month a student group of about twenty teens gets together to hatch ideas for strengthening the community’s connection with kids. Every April, they put on an Assets Festival that showcases students through performing arts and other activities. Organizations sponsor booths. The event culminates with a big community dinner put on by the culinary arts students.

Long-time superintendent Betty Walters recalls that at one Assets Festival, kids were flocking around the booth for the Lions Club soapbox derby. “A fifth-grader signed up to be part of this, but his father is fishing [for a living] and couldn’t spend a lot of time with him,” says Walters. The Kodiak Baptist Mission volunteered to help supervise and mentor the boy. “He won the derby,” says Walters, “then went to the world championship and won tenth place. All this from that one encounter at the Assets Festival.”

Through such outreach, Kodiak is hoping to draw in other adults who haven’t been involved with students before, and to honor Alaska Native heritage at the same time.  The majority of the island’s population (more than 13,000)  is concentrated in the city of Kodiak; eight outlying clusters, accessible only by boat or small plane, include Chiniak, Afognak, and the Native Alaskan villages of Akhiok, Karluk, Larsen Bay, Old Harbor, Ouzinkie, and Port Lions. Ninety-five percent of the students attending school in the villages are Russian-Aleut.

Kodiak was a QS2/ICE partner from 2003–2005, but the program remains ongoing supported locally through district funds. In its initial Assets Survey, however, students had an average of eighteen Assets (out of a possible forty). “A great concern to us,” says Walters. “One thing that is pretty typical in Alaska, unfortunately, is that people do struggle a lot with drugs and alcohol. We weren’t particularly different from the state, in that regard.”

“Alcohol has been the scourge of rural Alaska,” adds Norm Wooten, a Kodiak school board member and incoming president of the National School Boards Association. “The white race brought alcohol in, and our Alaska Natives have suffered a great deal because of it. Alcoholism is rampant, and has also brought all sorts of spousal and child abuse.”

In contrast, says Wooten, “Alaska ICE has given communities something they can put their hands around, a way out of the quagmire, something where we can say we are making the NEXT generation different.” In terms of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) standards, Kodiak is making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in most schools and student subgroups, but math remains a challenge. Hispanic and Alaska Native students also need higher proficiency in language arts. One bright spot academically: The percentage of Kodiak’s Native students who tested proficient in reading jumped from 63.5 percent to 75 percent from 2003–2005; eighth grade proficient Native students leaped from 50 percent to 72.9 percent.

Wooten also points to Main Elementary School as proof that the QS2/ICE efforts have boosted achievement. “We have a large Hispanic and Filipino immigrant population working in the seafood industry, and in many families English is not spoken at home. We have done a lot of work to get those families involved. Kids are moving into the mainstream more quickly.” Main Elementary School was recently named one of 250 Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education, due to its “dramatically improved performance in their state with at least 40 percent of the students from a disadvantaged background," clearly an indication that Kodiak's community engagement efforts have taken hold.

Related content

AK: To foster community support, add ICE

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Lessons Learned

  • School board member Norm Wooten says Kodiak “no longer uses the word ‘parents,’ but the word ‘families,’ because we have many immigrant students, and there may be an aunt or grandmother at a student conference for that child. So it’s the family model.”  

  • The “where” and “how” of trying something new can make a difference. Kodiak’s parent involvement committee noticed that at school meetings, non-English-speaking parents were walking right past the wireless earphone translation system. Rather than having someone from the central office demonstrate the system, however, they’re considering asking high school students to demonstrate it on-site at the canneries where many parents work, so it will be presented in a familiar setting.

  • In remote villages, particularly, school gyms and basketball are the heart of the community. Keeping the gyms open at all hours, and full of active community members, helps create situations to connect positively with kids.

  • Kodiak connects curriculum to the life of the community when possible. One example: In a community where salmon-fishing is part of everyday life, Kodiak teaches math and science through its Salmonid Education Project, where students are involved with every aspect of silver (Coho) salmon, from collecting spawning salmon to releasing young fish back into the wild.

  • After mining the student achievement data, stay flexible on solutions. When Kodiak found it wasn't meeting its No Child Left Behind AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) requirements for math in grades 6–10, the school system devised an extra math lab. Students missed social studies to attend math lab, but social studies teachers designed a special program to catch them up.

  • Multiple partnerships help students thrive, but academic coordination takes time and attention. The Salmonid Education Program, for instance, involves Alaska Fish and Game personnel, several individuals, the local aquaculture association and dozens of local businesses. Coordinating all the players calls for extra energy from teachers and staff.

  • Community involvement is not a one-way street. Students learn to give back to the community. For example, a group of students learned how to harvest and filet salmon, and then distributed them to elders.

  • Don’t be consumed with terminology. If you asked most kids whether such activities are part of asset-building, they might look a bit puzzled. Says Wooten, “It’s more just about life in Kodiak, and what we do.”

This story was written by Elaine Furlow, a freelance writer living in Arlington, Va.

Posted: February 22, 2007

©2007 Center for Public Education


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