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Does Alaska CRP make a difference?

Headshot of Diwakar Vadapalli, Ph.D.
By Diwakar Vadapalli, Ph.D.

Chair, Alaska Citizen Review Panel

Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage

I have been the Chair of Alaska Citizen Review Panel (CRP) for more than four years now. The panel’s job is complicated and comes with considerable responsibilities, yet understanding the significance of the CRP’s role in protecting children has made the volunteer experience both rewarding and inspiring. However, recruiting others to serve on the panel has been difficult due to a lack of information on the role of the CRP in general, as well as the responsibilities of panel members more specifically. Potential members often have three main questions – What is the CRP? What does it do? What difference has it made?

The first question is relatively simple to answer. CRP is mandated by Congress as a mechanism to encourage members of the general public to participate in improving the effectiveness of child protection services (CPS) in their respective states. Every state must have at least one CRP, and the panels are primarily administered and funded under the authority of the state governments.

The second question becomes more complicated because of a CRP’s extremely broad mandate. CRPs have three main functions – review, outreach, and advocacy. Simply put, a CRP reviews the policies, procedures, and practices of a state’s CPS agencies; reaches out to families and communities to assess the impact of those policies, procedures, and practices; and recommends any necessary changes in those policies, procedures, and practices.

After four years of leading the panel, it is clear that doing all this is anything but simple. It requires clarity of purpose, adequate staff and financial resources, willing partnerships with the Office of Children’s Services (OCS) and other stakeholder agencies, and, most importantly, dedicated volunteer time. The panel made a lot of progress in clarifying its purpose, and its partnerships with OCS and other stakeholder groups are constructive and promising. The panel could use more than the current budget allocation of $100,000, but any increase seems improbable in the current fiscal climate. The last challenge, however, – dedicated volunteer time – has been the most difficult. Recruiting and retaining volunteers is challenging because the CRP’s work can be very technical, contentious, and at times, disillusioning.

So, naturally, with all that is expected of a CRP, volunteers wonder if all their effort makes any difference. Does CRP make a difference? I have been trying to answer this question since I discovered the panel’s work back in 2011. I was a new faculty member at the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), trying to understand the complicated world of Alaska’s OCS. In one of my many searches, I found the CRP’s website. The panel was just beginning its 11th year of work.

Back in 2004 – 2006, before I left Alaska to get my Ph.D., I was an Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) worker in Sleetmute, in Western Alaska. My caseload included about 10 – 15 children in and out of custody at any time, and life was busy. Aniak was the closest OCS field office. Bethel also had an OCS field office, but along with the office in Aniak, they were required to report to the Wasilla Regional Office. It was strange having to work with OCS staff in the Mat-Su Valley to serve children and families living in our region. Many of us often wondered how administrators from a relatively urban location that existed entirely within the road system, and who had likely not been to villages in Western Alaska, could make meaningful and culturally appropriate decisions that significantly impacted the families we served. But, as a local ICWA worker, it was one of those high-level administrative decisions beyond my control, even though it had a direct impact on my ability to do my job. When I came back to Alaska five years later, in 2011, OCS had five regions. The Western Region was created in 2010, with its headquarters in Bethel.

When I found the CRP in 2011, I read through all its annual reports since 2002. It was strange to see that the panel repeated its annual recommendations, sometimes for several years. OCS responded in writing each year since 2005, but it is hard to tell if the recommendations were implemented, or even seriously considered. In some cases, changes happened at OCS, but it was unclear if the change was a result of a CRP recommendation, or if it was just a happy coincidence. One such change was the creation of the Western Region. CRP first recommended it in 2006. The panel made a very strong case for it in 2008. And repeated the recommendation in 2009. Each time, OCS’ written response was nonchalant at best. And then, suddenly, the Western Region was created in 2010, with no acknowledgement of any connection between the CRP’s recommendation and the actual decision.

I called the CRP in early 2012 to better understand how it works, and if the CRP’s recommendations had anything to do with the creation of the Western Region. The panel at the time was very focused on getting the necessary staffing and resources for the new regional office in Bethel, and was in need of new members with ground-level experience in the Western Region. With my previous experience in Sleetmute, I was a perfect fit, and joined the panel. I did not have the time to worry if the panel made a difference in the past, and began to worry if the panel was currently making a difference. Within a year, I found myself to be the Chair of the panel.

Over the last five years, many people asked me if the CRP ever made a difference. News reporters, legislators, service professionals, OCS employees, current CRP members, folks from across the nation, and my students – they all asked. I kept looking for the best answer, but could not find a better example than the creation of the Western Region. So, I went back to that recommendation and dug a little deeper. From CRP presentations to House Health and Social Services (HSS) Committee, CRP annual reports, OCS written responses, and a couple of informal interviews, below seems to be the story of how it happened over the five-year period from 2006 to 2010:

  • 2006: The CRP recommended that OCS create a fifth region for the first time. It was a transition year at OCS with a new commissioner for the department, and a new deputy commissioner at OCS. The recommendation was brushed aside citing the transition.
  • 2007: The 2007 CRP report did not include a recommendation to create a fifth region.
  • 2008: Late in 2007, OCS proposed to move the Social Services Manager V position from Bethel to Wasilla. The position was vacant at the time. A group of OCS frontline workers from the Bethel office approached the CRP, very concerned about the lack of support and understanding from the regional office in Wasilla, and the devastating effect this move would have on the Bethel office’s relationships with tribal partners. CRP contacted local agency partners of OCS in Bethel and in the region, and received more than 30 letters of support for the creation of an entirely separate region, just like the CRP recommended in 2006. Subsequently, CRP’s 2008 annual report included a lengthy analysis of various perspectives and data, making a strong case for the creation of a fifth service region with Bethel as its headquarters. OCS’ written response to the 2008 recommendation downplayed the need for a fifth region, and assured all that a new staffing pattern would address these concerns.
  • 2009: CRP’s annual report essentially repeated the recommendation, citing all the sources from previous year, making an equally passionate case. OCS’ response, for the first time, acknowledges CRP’s effort on this front. However, OCS reminded CRP that there were “other” priorities at that time.
  • 2010: CRP’s presentation to the House HSS Committee in February that year could not have been more passionate. The panel described the Bethel office as in complete disarray, barely meeting its legal and statutory responsibilities. The Director of OCS, in response to the CRP presentation, mentioned that a plan to create a fifth region was in the works, but due to the continued increase of population in the Mat-Su Valley, OCS had to prioritize development of the Wasilla office. Five months later, in June that year, CRP’s annual report acknowledged the creation of the Western Region, and noted that it was pleased to see the outcome of a multi-year effort. OCS did not mention the creation of the Western Region in its response.

OCS went through an extensive federal review in 2009, and prepared a plan to address the areas that the review identified for improvement. Neither the federal review nor the OCS’ plan had any mention of a fifth region. OCS’ five-year Child and Family Services Plan for the years 2010 – 2014 did not mention any plans to create a fifth region. None of the other OCS’ reports from those years prior to 2010 had any mention of plans to create of a fifth region.

After the Western Region was created in 2010, OCS’ documents never explained the creation in any manner, nor acknowledged CRP’s effort in the matter. Other than a brief comment in the 2010 CRP annual report that the panel was pleased with the outcome, the CRP just moved on to other challenges. If you do not know that CRP exists, or did not take the time to read through the annual reports, you would never know that CRP was involved in this effort. I spoke to a few contemporary sources to check if there were other strong advocates, unrelated to the CRP’s effort. I could not find any. I may have missed something here, and I trust someone reading this will correct me as necessary.

Nevertheless, let us just pause and think about it – the Alaska CRP is a small group of volunteers, less than 10 members during those years. They had less than $100,000 per year, for some staff support. This small group changed the structure of OCS, and redefined the way services are delivered to families and communities in a major part of the state. They were persistent, focused, and dedicated.

So, to answer the last of the three questions – did the CRP make a difference? – HUGE! It is not often that a small group of volunteers change the course of a major bureaucratic agency. This is exactly what Congress had in mind when they wanted regular citizens, not just child protection bureaucrats, to play an “integral role” in child protection services. The story of the creation of OCS’ Western Region is a perfect example of what Congress wanted CRPs to do.

And, by the way, this is not the only impact. I hope people will take the time to read through the CRP annual reports and OCS responses. They are all available on the panel’s website at www.crpalaska.org. Of course, do not be surprised if you have to dig deep like I did to find the actual impact CRP may have had. It is almost never acknowledged.

If you are wondering how such a small group of volunteers can have such a significant impact, much credit goes to Congress’ vision for the CRP. Before there were CRPs, many states were experimenting with citizen groups. Based on the success of these groups, Congress designed the CRPs, and required every state to have at least one CRP. Some states, like Alaska, went further and enacted their own laws for CRPs. Beyond the vision from Congress, and beyond federal and state statutes, a lot of credit goes to the CRP members in Alaska, for the persistence, commitment, and focus that resulted in the creation of the Western Region. Thanks to their efforts, children and families in Western Alaska have a better shot at being protected from child maltreatment.

The CRP can be a powerful mechanism if we all use it, and use it effectively. There are many ways to contribute. Join the panel, be a resource person, contribute to its work indirectly, and utilize its products. Visit the panel’s website, or contact the panel coordinator for further information.

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Alaska CARES: Coming Together to Help Kids Heal After Abuse

By Bryant Skinner, Alaska CARES Manager

Bryant Skinner head shot

Bryant Skinner, Alaska CARES

According to the Child Welfare League of America, Alaska consistently has one of the top five rates of child abuse in the United States. In Alaska last year, at least 8,000 children were physically or sexually abused, and this represents only reported cases[i].

Adverse childhood experiences like these cause toxic levels of stress that can strain and weaken children’s health and development, and can lead to lifelong social, emotional and cognitive impairments. Often these impairments result in the adoption of high-risk behaviors, disease, disability and social problems. In fact, children experiencing trauma are 49 percent more likely as adults to be unemployed and 92 percent more likely to earn less than $20,000 annually. Child trauma contributes to 60 percent experiencing frequent mental distress into adulthood. Additionally, the impacts of repeated adverse experiences can even lead to early death.

The statistics are grim, but we don’t have to let our children become statistics. Studies show that doing just two simple things can help children grow and thrive:

  1. First, we can invest in primary prevention models that reduce children’s exposure to trauma, or sustained, severe adversity.
  2. Second, we can support early intervention that helps children heal when traumas are experienced, and support children developing resiliency through positive, healthy, supportive relationships.

Alaska CARES is one program that specializes in the second strategy. Alaska CARES is a Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), a comprehensive, child-centered program based in a facility where victim-advocate, law enforcement, child protection, tribal health, forensic medicine, and mental health professionals are co-located and work together in cases of child abuse.

In the old model of care, kids making a report of harm would have to go to several adult-centered locations to tell their story over and over, which was counterproductive to the child’s healing. The benefit of the CAC model is that it brings all those services together under one roof in a secure environment, designed for the privacy and dignity of young patients. Together, the multi-disciplinary team at Alaska CARES makes sure children feel safe and supported as they come forward to courageously tell their story.

One such child, we’ll call her Kimi, literally illustrates the healing power of early intervention.

Kimi was just 8 years old when she was the victim of sexual abuse by her neighbor. At the time she experienced the abuse she knew something was wrong and worked up the courage to tell the perpetrator “NO,” and then left the room. But her little sister was left with the offender. She found the courage to tell someone about the abuse and an appointment was set for her to be evaluated at Alaska CARES.

angerIt was determined during her visit that seeing a mental health therapist at Alaska CARES would be essential to starting the healing process. The first picture Kimi created (right) was completed during the first two weeks of her therapy. “Anger, Hurt, Sad, Guilt, Nervous, Scared” were the words Kimi used for this painting. She used all of the colors that she didn’t like as she began to process the trauma she experienced. 

guilt

“Guilt” was how Kimi described her painting after six months of therapy (left). Yet, her therapist noted that she was much more present in her session and no longer withdrawn! Although these colors look dark, they were colors that she actually liked and she placed an X to represent “Danger” or “Do not enter,” similar to a poison bottle. She labeled this drawing “Guilt,” which was significant in her progress toward being able to identify and resolve the more specific emotion relating to leaving her sister behind with the abuser.

peace

After one year of care at Alaska CARES, “Peace” was what Kimi called this painting (right). Kimi, her sister and her family were able to work through many emotions and develop tools to manage their feelings and build resiliency. Because Kimi was brave and disclosed the incident, her offender was held accountable for his actions. The care she received in her healing journey helped change the trajectory of Kimi’s life, her sister’s life and the health and resiliency of their entire family.

The issue of child abuse is a moral, social and human issue that impacts our entire community. The earlier the intervention, the better the intervention, and the more likely it is that we can help kids like Kimi as they grow up into adulthood. Alaska CARES demonstrates what is possible when professionals, community members and government agencies work together to support children.

If you would like more information about Alaska CARES, or if you know someone who might be helped by the services of Alaska CARES, visit their website.

[i] http://alaska.providence.org/locations/c/cares/abusefacts

 

 

 

 

Giving Thanks for Pick. Click. Give.

(Get inspired to help us reach our goal!)

We are giving thanks for our Pick. Click. Give. donors who gave $5,225 to support our mission to prevent child abuse and neglect this year!

We ended the campaign $775 short of our goal, but we have hope that we can reach $6,000 in donations. While the PFD application period has ended, supporters can still add or change a Pick. Click. Give. contribution until August 31.

Get inspired to give! Read these stories about what you are supporting when you Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust:

Here’s what you can do to help us reach our goal (we are so close!):

  • Visit pfd.alaska.gov.
  • Click the “add or change a Pick. Click. Give. donation” button on the right side of the page.
  • Log in to your account.
  • Make your Pick. Click. Give. donation to Alaska Children’s Trust!

Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect!

Science Action Club Builds STEM Identity Among Youth

20170227_102025_resizedTwenty youth at Bristol Bay 4-H Club stealthily maneuver in the outdoors, keeping their eyes to the sky – they’re on the lookout for birds. These youth are citizen scientists, actively counting birds and documenting their findings in an online platform where professional scientists and ornithologists use the submitted data for research.

The following week, the youth explore how oil spills can affect birds. Comparing two feathers – one dipped in water, the other dipped in oil – the youth discover that the feather dipped in oil will not dry, and investigate environmental solutions to cleaning oil from feathers.

“My favorite activity was seeing what happens to feathers in oil,” says Jacob Belleque. “I was surprised. I thought the oil would come out of the feathers, but it didn’t.”

This is Science Action Club – a curriculum designed to engage middle school youth in authentic, hands-on science during afterschool.20170228_170918_resized

Programs such as Science Action Club address a real need to engage more youth in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at a young age. Alaska employers say STEM jobs are going unfulfilled because students are graduating from high school without the requisite skills. And in college, too few entering freshman see themselves as scientists, mathematicians, technical experts and engineers. Many youth, especially girls and other underrepresented groups, see STEM as something “other” people do – not something they can pursue.

Science Action Club is helping to make STEM relevant, important and fun for all youth. And once students engage in hands-on science, they begin to reconfigure their beliefs about themselves and their abilities. The club has helped the youth at Bristol Bay 4-H Club understand that they are part of a larger community – the Citizen Scientist Community. This sense of belonging has led to increased levels of self-confidence and STEM identity among club members.

At the start of Science Action Club, many of the youth stated that they did not consider themselves to be scientists, but that opinion has changed over the course of the club. Youth talk about activities with their peers and influence them to join the club – and the learning doesn’t stop when the club lets out. Youth voluntarily track bird activity at home and seek out and share birding books with each other. Parents have noted that dinner discussions are very animated on club days.

And that’s possibly because Science Action Club doesn’t look like your typical science class.Dillingham SAC 2

Instead, it looks like engineering a device that prevents a raw egg from breaking when dropped from a certain height.

It looks like designing paper airplanes to fly across the room, mimicking the flight styles of owls and falcons.

And it looks like real-life experiments, such as dissecting owl pellets, as well as going on regular birding walks.

“I like Science Action Club because we can identify birds and study them to get to know them better,” says one club member.

STEM education creates critical thinkers and increases science literacy. Science Action Club is only one example of the impact of an engaging STEM curriculum in out-of-school time. And while the Science Action Club curriculum is portable and can easily be taken on the road to different communities, access for many young people is still a problem.

Dillingham SAC 3The Alaska Afterschool Network aims to address these barriers, especially in rural Alaska, by forming partnerships to provide high-quality programming opportunities in the state. The Science Action Club is an example of such a partnership. The Alaska Afterschool Network brought the Science Action Club curriculum to 15 program sites across Alaska in conjunction with the National Girls Collaborative Project and the California Academy of Sciences, with funding support from BP Alaska.

The Science Action Club is only a dent in the surface of creating greater access to high-quality STEM learning in out-of-school time. And even though the research is clear on the benefits of exposing students to STEM activities, both within and outside of school, funding can still be a challenge.

Without continued, intentional support of STEM learning in afterschool, students may not get the chance to discover a future career as an ornithologist, or may not choose to pursue a college degree in physics. Afterschool programs bring STEM alive for youth – and support and active partnerships are crucial to continue bringing opportunities to our youth.

To get involved in supporting important afterschool efforts like the Science Action Club, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Alaska Afterschool Network.

Congratulations Monte Lynn Jordan: 2017 Interior Champion for Kids

monteFrom being a Big Sister to organizing healthy activities to inspiring others to get involved, Monte Lynn Jordan is a driving force behind preventing child abuse and neglect in Alaska. Those are just a few of many reasons that Alaska Children’s Trust is honored to announce Monte as our 2017 Interior Champion for Kids. Monte was honored at our Fairbanks fundraising reception on Friday, March 31. See event photos on Facebook.

For the past 30+ years, Monte has been working to prevent child abuse and neglect by supporting healthy kids in Alaska. Fond of the Shirley Chisholm saying, “Service is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” Monte puts her time and energy behind those words as a tireless advocate for children and families. Whether she is working to provide services to strengthen families, organizing healthy living activities for kids, or simply lending her talents to better the community at large, when an advocate for a child is needed, Monte is there.

image013Monte believes that healthy communities begin with healthy kids. A leader in many nonprofit service organizations, Monte’s exemplary service is a motivating force behind groups that support healthy families, especially children. Specifically, she has worked with the Resource Center for Parents and Children, which helps parents with parenting skills, strengthening the family structure in order to help prevent child abuse and neglect. She is a member of the board of directors for The Carol H. Brice Family Center, which promotes healthy families through education, day care assistance, legal help, and low-cost health care. Monte has also been a Court Appointed Special Advocate for abused, neglected or abandoned children in juvenile court proceedings.

image012Another way Monte works to prevent child abuse and neglect is by helping provide healthy activities for young people. She is a founding member of Running Club North’s Equinox Kid’s Marathon and a prime assistant for cross country training. She volunteers to help with high school track and field events, and is a dedicated organizer of the Alaska Children’s Trust Mush for Kids. Monte has also been directly involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization as an active and interested Big Sister to a local young person, with whom she maintained a relationship well into adulthood. Whether in groups or individually, Monte’s enthusiasm for a healthy, active lifestyle is both an inspiration and motivation for kids who may face challenging circumstances.

As important as the direct role she takes working with and for kids, is the fact that Monte uses her love of people and passion for service to recruit others to do the same. A model of lifetime service and diligence, she may be working in the background, but she is always leading by example.

Monte is quite simply a positive force in society. Her ardent activism on behalf of children, faith in the power of a healthy lifestyle, and unflagging efforts in her community mean that she can be found wherever she is needed. She has been called many things: persistent, insistent, ally, friend. One thing is sure – she is a champion for kids.

Each year the Alaska Children’s Trust Champion for Kids Award recognizes individuals like Monte who have demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward eliminating child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive and nurturing communities. We present three awards each year – one in southeast Alaska, one in Interior and one in southcentral. Earlier this year, we recognized Sen. Anna MacKinnon as our 2017 Southeast Champion for Kids. A call for nominations for the 2017 Southcentral Champion for Kids will be released this summer.

Lullaby Project Brings Mothers in Prison Closer to their Children

By Shirley M. Springer Staten

kayla-shirley-copy

Shirley Mae Springer Staten spearheaded the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project of 2016. ACT supported the project with a $10,000 grant.

The Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project of 2016 paired incarcerated women with Alaska musicians to create beautiful and personal lullabies for their children at home. The effort began in June of 2015, beginning as the mission of a single committed Anchorage woman. Happily, she did not work alone for long.

The result? On September 24, 2016, a packed audience of 250 supporters gathered in the prison gymnasium at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center to witness a powerful testament of love and connection. Sixteen mothers and 16 musicians performed lullabies before a heart-warmed public audience. In most cases, the tender lullaby recipients, small children, stood onstage with their moms – proudly or shyly – to hear her sing directly to them. Tears flowed, both on stage and in the audience. This event was healing made visible.

mothers-mg_2654How did the Hiland Mountain Lullaby Project happen? It is a genuine story of compassion that sprang from chance circumstances.

Shirley Mae Springer Staten likes to lounge in bed on Saturday mornings, listening to public radio. Listening to “This American Life” on NPR, Staten heard a woman say, “I can do some things for my children, even from prison.” The story was about women prisoners in Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex for 10,000 prisoners – literally on an island in the East River. The radio story told of a project by the Carnegie Hall Music Weill Institute to bring mothers in prison closer to their children, using lullabies to strengthen their bond.

All Staten could think about was women prisoners at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center. She knows its women because she has participated in many programs delivering hope and inspiration there since 1986. She wanted this musical opportunity for Hiland’s mothers and their children.

Staten made a cold call to the Carnegie Institute to ask about the project. Manuel Bagorro, program manager for Carnegie, called back a month later. He wanted to know – who was this woman in Alaska proposing to start a Lullaby Project in Alaska? How did she think she could accomplish it? Why was she qualified to lead it? Was she all talk, or could she really pull it off?

Bagorro didn’t wonder for long. He said he could hear the energy and commitment in Staten’s voice. He soon believed she could do it, and invited her to New York City for training. Staten had the opportunity there to witness a Lullaby Project in action.

She watched as women from a homeless shelter joined with local musicians to write lullabies. She remembers the women as amazing, even as they expressed little self-worth. Invited to write lyrics, they would often say, “I don’t know how to write a song!” But at the end of a five-hour workshop, they had indeed successfully composed choruses for their individual lullabies. They danced for joy, Staten said.

Back in Anchorage and on fire to launch a local project, Staten faced big hurdles. Where would the money come from, and how would she earn institutional approval?

The first step was gaining Hiland Mountain Superintendent Gloria Johnson’s support. She and her staff emphasize empowering women and reducing recidivism. This program, aimed at bonding prison mothers with their children, seemed like a good fit. They gave an emphatic green light, and the project was on. Of 25 lullaby projects around the United States, only two – Hiland Mountain and Rikers – happen in prison.

Staten attributes the project’s success to what she calls the “Yes factor.” That’s when armies of supporters say, “Yes!” and step up to help. Together, she and her co-conspirators found a nonprofit to host the project and raise necessary funds. Alaska Children’s Trust awarded a $10,000 grant to support the project.

Her next steps were recruiting musicians, providing training through Carnegie staff and matching musicians with inmate songwriters. The mothers tackled their lyric writing using the “Carnegie Lullaby Workbook.” In it, they sketched their dreams and hopes for their children. Together, mothers and musician “coaches” worked to translate those ideas into the language of song, and musicians wrote the tunes. A “listening party,” where mothers could approve final versions, was an emotional experience. For many of the mothers, this was the first time they were able to hear their own words set to music.

Finally, the project culminated in that September public performance, with each mother receiving a CD copy of her lullaby. It was an afternoon of soulful solidarity as fellow citizens stood with these incarcerated women and shared their love and affection for their beautiful children.

“It made me want to be a mother again,” one Hiland mother said.

 

STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants Provide Youth with Opportunities

By Rachael McKinney, Afterschool STEM Expansion VISTA

The Alaska Afterschool Network, Juneau Economic Development Council, and BP Alaska have awarded $24,000 allocated to 16 programs across the state, with grants ranging from $500 to $2,000. These STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants are designed to help afterschool programs implement or expand high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning.noorvik-bg-club

The Alaska Afterschool Network (a program of Alaska Children’s Trust) is grateful for the opportunity to help bring such a great resource to afterschool programs in Alaska.

The need to support STEM learning in-school and after-school is ever-growing. Students spend less than 20 percent of their waking hours inside a school-day classroom, and a number of studies show that STEM learning during the school day is necessary but may not be sufficient for lifelong STEM literacy. Afterschool provides opportunities to reinforce in-school STEM learning through engaging, hands-on STEM activities that can garner and sustain student-interest in these fields.

Estimates show that 80 percent of future jobs will require STEM literacy, with employment in science and math occupations growing 70 percent faster than the overall growth of occupations. A strong, educated STEM workforce is critical to the continued growth of Alaska’s economy. Alaska must provide a STEM education pipeline for students to become effectively educated with the critical thinking and 21st century technology skills needed to tackle the rapidly changing economic, communication, and physical environments affecting Alaska.

However, many students, especially girls and those from underrepresented minorities, find it difficult to envision themselves in these careers. Participation in afterschool STEM programing has been correlated with reducing STEM inequities and increased likelihood of students selecting science-related college majors and careers.

peak-2STEM Afterschool Innovation Mini-Grants are aimed at fostering this process of sparking youth interest in STEM for a more productive and innovative future workforce. From opening a bakery to creating an automobile engineering summer camp, the grant recipients will help provide Alaska youth with valuable skills to prepare them for success in college, career and life.

The Alaska Afterschool Network thanks all of the grant applicants for their commitment to positive youth development and informal STEM education. In total, 53 grant applications were submitted by a diverse group of applicants, including programs from nonprofits, public schools, and libraries spanning the entire state, with requests adding up to more than $83,000. The Alaska Afterschool Network and our partners are committed to increasing resources and opportunities so all Alaskan youth have the opportunity to engage in STEM learning during out-of-school time.

The 2017 STEM Afterschool Innovation Grant recipients are listed below.

Boys & Girls Club of Alaska – Nome Community Center | Nome, Alaska
The Clubhouse plans to teach youth that we are all changing individuals and how these changes benefit everyone through the exploration of habitats and solar energy. Funding will be used to purchase habitat supplies, microscopes, solar car kits, and wind turbine experiment kits. This will allow the clubhouse to increase the frequency of STEM offerings and to take their STEM programing to the next level.

St. Paul Preschool | St. Paul, Alaska
Funding will be used to purchase a Discover STEM Lab to be used on a rotational basis, exposing students to multiple STEM modalities by promoting innovation and inquiry, developing problem-solving, and encouraging mathematical reasoning skills within their afterschool program.

Boys & Girls Club of the Kenai Peninsula – Kasilof Clubhouse | Kasilof, Alaska
The Kasilof Boys & Girls Club Bakery will encourage the use of engineering, science, and mathematical skills among club members. Youth will create a student-run bakery business by constructing a storefront for sales, using data analysis to create and maintain spreadsheets of sale records, and utilizing math and life science skills in baking and nutritional labeling.

Sitka Sound Science Center | Sitka, Alaska
STEM grant funding will be used to create a new one-week summer camp called REVolution Camp, which will focus on automobile engineering, fuel systems, and design and product testing. The camp will expose students to the ideas of automobile mechanics, renewable energy systems, design requirements, and testing engineering.

Cordova School District | Cordova, Alaska
Funding will be used to help purchase a Little Bits Pro Library to provide students with more opportunities to learn and create. The Little Bits Pro Library will enable youth to create a comprehensive makerspace that engages them in hands-on STEM activities.

Meadow Lakes Elementary | Wasilla, Alaska
The Meadow Lakes Einstein’s Club will use funding to purchase materials and accessories to teach students problem-solving, engineering, and computer programming. Students will engineer things such as index card towers and paper tables; robots will be used to teach youth about coding and programming.

Teeland Middle School | Wasilla, Alaska
Funding will be used toward the purchase of a replacement 3D printer, which will be used to manufacture robot frames and used as a vehicle for teaching computer programming to students.

Discovery Southeast | Juneau, Alaska
Discovery Southeast will incorporate an explicit STEM focus into its Outdoor Explorers Summer Camp. Three weeks of the camp will be dedicated to Ocean, Salmon, and Rocks, during which campers will pose questions, conduct investigations, collect data, and create a project to share the information they have gathered.

Friends of the Zach Gordon Youth Center | Juneau, Alaska
STEM grant funding will assist Body and Mind Afterschool Activities in providing new STEM curriculum focusing on snow science, space, and birds.

Fairbanks North Star Borough School District 21st CCLC | Fairbanks, Alaska
Funding will be used to purchase three OSMOs classrooms sets that will be shared across 21st CCLC programs in Fairbanks using their Afterschool Lending Library. The OSMOs expose students to problem-solving, coding, mathematics, and computational skills.

Trailside Discovery | Anchorage, Alaska
Trailside Discovery will use grant funding to purchase a JASON Rigamajig to be used in Anchorage School District Title I schools that operate 21st CCLC programs. The Rigamajig is a large-scale building kit used for hands-on free play and learning.

The Arc of Anchorage | Anchorage, Alaska
STEM grant funding will purchase a modular Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) race track and corresponding Maglev cars. Participants will be able to building different tracks, and will then break into teams to build the Maglev cars that will be used for racing. Concepts such as aerodynamics will be taught to students to help them continually rebuild and improve their engineering designs.

Anchorage Public Libraries | Anchorage, Alaska
A geocaching program for youth grades 3-5 called “Geocaching – Hi-tech Hide and Seek” will be rotated throughout programs held in Anchorage’s public libraries. Geocaching will increase youth’s early exposure to real-world mathematics, geospatial science, and GPS technology, while also building upon critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and teamwork.

Boys & Girls Club of Alaska – Woodland Park | Anchorage, Alaska
Funding will be used to create a DIY STEM program at the clubhouse. Four units will be introduced: Energy and Electricity, Engineering Design, Food Chemistry, and Intro to Aeronautics. The program will promote interest and awareness of STEM among club members.

Camp Fire Alaska – Tyson Elementary and Fire Lake | Anchorage/Eagle River, Alaska
Staff members of Camp Fire Alaska will receive specialized training in STEM activity facilitation, focused on supporting youth to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Additionally, staff will receive an orientation to the STEM supplement of the Youth Program Quality Assessment tool in preparation for observing and measuring quality of STEM programing. Camp Fire staff will then implement 12, pre-planned activities intended to introduce youth to basic STEM concepts.

Celebrating Culture, Connecting Community

Old Harbor Alliance Aurcaq Carving Workshop

Growing up in a rural village, Melissa Berns didn’t have a close connection with her culture. “Back then, there was a kind of shame associated with our culture. We knew we were Alutiiq but we didn’t know what that meant,” she says.

Today, through opportunities such as the Aurcaq carving workshop held in Old Harbor in April, youth are experiencing – and enjoying – their culture, while participating in healthy, positive activities. Among these youth is Melissa’s son.

“He’s always watched me skin sewing and beading, and he would ask for my knife and make spears out of sticks,” Melissa says. “To have an instructor teach him was very beneficial. It was eye-opening for him. He’s been doing more carving since the workshop – all the kids have.

The week-long Aurcaq carving workshop, which was hosted by Old Harbor’s community and regional entities, kicked off a series of community events taking place throughout Great Lent. Aurcaq, a subsistence-focused marine mammal hunting game, is historically played only during the six weeks of Orthodox Lent. In years past, the Orthodox faith was strictly followed and the faithful were forbidden to hunt, gamble, eat red meat, or drink alcoholic beverages during Lent. The game of Aurcaq was believed to provide a social outlet for hunting and gambling at a time it was not allowed.

Alutiiq master carver and teacher Andrew Abyo came to the village to share traditional techniques used to carve Aurcaq game sets. Each participant completed a full set that they could take home to continue this tradition with their family and friends.

“The participants got to take a finished piece home and continue playing,” Melissa says. “They didn’t have to stop just because the workshop was over.”

In addition to exposing youth to the traditional game, the event planning team also wanted to encourage positive interactions between youth and adults. Traditional foods were a significant part of the week, which included nightly family-style dinners featuring sikyuk, salmon, alaciq, seal, sea lion, goose, clams, boiled cod, goat, deer and all of the fixings. At the dinners, elders, parents and children shared stories and visited about their daily activities, much like their ancestors did in years past.

“The workshop was a good mix of kids and adults working together. It helped bridge that gap,” Melissa says, adding that a total of 53 participants from 32 households participated throughout the week.

As the workshop finale, a community potlatch and Aurcaq tournament was held at the school. Youth and adults alike took great pride in their finely carved whales and laughter was heard throughout the evening. Instead of going home with material possessions won through gambling, there was a gain in cultural pride and the knowledge of an almost lost art, which can now be shared with generations to come. As the tournament concluded, smiles were seen on the faces of young and old, who repeatedly asked, “When are we going to do this again?”

“Activities like these give kids a sense of pride and a positive way to connect with their families and community,” Melissa says. “We can also pass on messages about respect, pride, and caring for yourself and your neighbor. Through these types of programs, we can perpetuate our art and build stronger leaders for the community.”

The Aurcaq carving workshop and tournament was supported by the Old Harbor Alliance’s grant through Alaska Children’s Trust, Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor’s Tribal Youth and Office on Violence Against Women Programs, Kodiak Area Native Association Family Violence Prevention Program, Koniag Inc., Old Harbor School and Old Harbor Native Corporation. The Aurcaq carving workshop is one of many workshops and events held throughout the year to perpetuate Alutiiq culture through the arts.

You can support efforts like these and make a positive statewide impACT for Alaska’s children and families when you Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust!

Old HarborMelissa Berns is active in the community of Old Harbor and volunteers with youth programs as Nuniaq Alutiiq Dance Instructor, Nuniaq Traditional Camp Planner, Alutiiq Week Organizer and Old Harbor School Programs. Melissa perpetuates the continuation of Alutiiq Cultural Arts by teaching Subsistence Harvesting and Processing, Alutiiq Basket Weaving, Skin Sewing and Beading through youth programs year around.

Our Voices Will Be Heard

By Vera Starbard

Alaska Children’s Trust was one of the very first financial supporters for Our Voices Will Be Heard. That was no small thing. Because the play was of such a sensitive subject, many img_1421organizations and individuals were reluctant to support the play. But as they saw organizations like Alaska Children’s Trust sign on with their support, they were emboldened to support with donations, large and small. The snowball effect of those first organizations’ support was important to the ultimate bottom line of the production.

But what impact does funding really have? For us, it meant more reach. More people reached, more families reached – more lives impacted. It meant we could tell more people about the play through more market reach, reach them with more resources once they were at the play, and then after the play hold workshops to teach them how they could begin to tell their own story.

One such workshop took place near the end of the Juneau run of the three-community production. A handful of people who had seen my play, Our Voices Will Be Heard, heard about our “Healing Through Storytelling” workshop through advertisement at the play, and through local media. They were moved by the play’s message of telling your story, and wanted to learn how to tell theirs. At the workshop, I used art supplies purchased with grant funds to lead them through how I had used several different art mediums over the years to tell my own story of healing from childhood sexual abuse.

img_1230After the workshop, I was approached by one of the participants. She was a leader at a local residential treatment program. She found value in the workshop, and wondered if I wouldn’t come and lead a workshop for her residents.

Once I did, with a few members of the cast, it was one of the more enlightening workshops we held over the months. The women in this treatment center had all made the decision to seek recovery from substance abuse of some kind. And, without exception, they had each experienced some form of sexual abuse in their childhood. Once I had shown them what I had done with my own story, they opened up. I taught them about metaphor, and they used the teaching to write metaphors about their own story. It was magical.

We heard stories about white ravens who sought love, but were betrayed by evil foxes. We heard stories about little otters who were terribly hurt by sneaky weasels. And we heard about great eagles who got lost in the wind, but found their way back. The stories were beautiful and honest. That night, the leader told me it was the first time one of the women had made any reference at all to her abuse. And it came through a story.

A few months later, I got a message from that same leader, and she said that some of the women were still writing. They had received from that workshop a beginning. The beginning to storytelling, and a beginning to a new kind of healing. While the “snowball effect” continued, with that workshop leading to another and another, eventually culminating in leading workshops at a behavioral health conference with over 90 people attending a single workshop. But that small room with a few women will remain special. It lead not only to hearing beautiful stories, but was a tool for real childhood sexual abuse healing for women who were seeking it.

Tlingit/Dena’ina Athabascan writer Vera Starbard penned the play, Our Voices Will Be Heard, an allegory about the sexual abuse she had experienced, and the journey she and her mother took. 

Pick. Click. Give. to Prevent Child Abuse

Start the New Year off right – by completing your 2017 PFD application and making a Pick. Click. Give. contribution to your favorite nonprofit! pcg-logo-fb-profile

Alaska Children’s Trust (ACT) thanks the 93 Alaskans who gave a total of $6,125 to help prevent child abuse and neglect through Pick. Click. Give. in 2016. See a full listing of our donors on the ACT website.

With the support of our donors, ACT and our partners supported afterschool programs taking students from struggling to straight As. Provided certified host families helping families facing a crisis keep their kids out of foster care. Hosted workshops teaching storytelling so victims can safely face and heal from abuse. And connected youth with their culture and community to develop strong future leaders. Read more about our statewide impACT on our website.

We also invite you to continue making a statewide impACT by making a Pick. Click. Give. donation to ACT when you complete your 2017 PFD application. Remember the PFD application period opens January 1!