STEPS Alaska Updates
Stepping Up for Alaska's Youth!
Photo from Hydaburg's Sahlguda BBQ, check out the Xántsii Náay Haida Immersion Preschool Facebook page for more photos.
Welcome Back!

Students have been learning a lot from their families, camps, and summer school programs throughout this summer. But August is here, and with it, the transition back to school.

Getting back to a regular school structure and routine will take some adjusting to, especially with the inconsistency of learning last year. Luckily, there are steps you can take and resources to help you make this transition a smooth one, both in the school/ community setting as well as at home with students.

For families, this pbs article can help offer suggestions on helping children successfully transition back to school.
And for staff and community partners, the National Education Association offers 33 tips to get things started.

Read the four articles below that highlight how STEPS partners are supporting transitions and getting the year off right.

  • Authentic Relationships with Students (Sitka Youth Leadership Committee)
  • A Key Lesson from 2020: Family Partnerships (Hoonah City School District)
  • Extending the Summer: Place Based Learning (Yakutat)
  • Communities of Practice and Professional Learning (regional)
Starting off with Authentic Relationships
Sitka Youth Leadership Committee members. Photo credit: Emma Thompson
Student Support for Starting Off the School Year

Sitka Youth Leadership Committee (SYLC) members, youth leaders dedicated to promoting equity, diversity, and healthy relationships in Sitka and throughout Alaska, share that as students are returning to schools, they want adults to recognize the importance of listening to young peoples’ needs and supporting them. 

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted students’ education greatly, and returning to school brings with it obvious stresses and concerns. The pandemic has isolated young people from friends and family, and presented mental health challenges. Especially given the difficult circumstances of the past year, it can be challenging for youth to balance school, work, extracurriculars, and the desire to change the world into a place they want to live, which is why young people need adult allies.

How did students cope with Covid 19?

This year’s School Climate & Connectedness Survey (SCCS) tells us a little bit about how students from STEPS communities felt during the Covid pandemic and this past year. The survey asked students, families and school staff about feeling safe, connected, and supported. 

Student Social Emotional Well-Being during the past year
  • 72% of students said they felt overwhelmed trying to keep up with school work during COVID-19. 
  • 51% of students said they felt connected to their peers during COVID-19
  • 44% of students said that it was difficult for them to use the distance learning tools 
  • 59% of families said their child was more anxious than usual since COVID-19 

Student Support for Starting Off the School Year

While school staff are balancing their own emotional reserves and resilience from the past year, it is important to start off on the right foot and to support students as they transition back to school. While it may be tempting to jump right into academics, students need safety, support, routines and connection first.  

The Sitka Youth Leadership Committee asks for adults to be allies. Former SYLC member, Esther Burdick, clarifies that "when we say 'ally,' we don't mean someone who takes up space in conversations targeted to youth or makes decisions for us." You may have heard the phrase “nothing about us without us”—used to communicate that no policy should be decided upon or enacted without the full and direct participation of the group affected by the policy.

A Key Lesson from 2020: Family Partnership
Watch this Stronger Together Family Partnership video
Remembering a Key Lesson from 2020 - Family Partnership

While we’d all like to forget much of 2020, it brought an important, necessary experience, true family partnership.  

As schools closed last year, our students learned from home. And with this experience, parents saw new challenges in teaching their kids classroom content. Teachers, working with parents, offered tips and ways for parents to support that learning. There was a lot for families, school staff, and students to navigate: food, technology, access equity, and working as a team. 

Best practices for learning have long suggested that students learn best when learning is reinforced and supported at home. 2020 really made sure that students and families stepped up to the challenge. School staff and families had to rely on each other and partner for student learning and well-being. 
Heather Lgeik’i Powell with her grandfather, Herman Davis
Heather Lgeik’í Powell, a cultural and language teacher in Hoonah City Schools offered this insight, “Building relationships with families is one of the most key components in helping our children get a solid and meaningful education. A lot of our (Tlingit) history tells us that our parents, our grandparents, and our families are our first teachers.  

So being able to invite our family members to be a part of their child’s education is essential. Strengthening relationships with our students' families gives them not only the feeling that they are responsible, but also a role and let's them know they are essential to what’s happening. They are the foundation. So it’s important to bring them along on this journey in the education of our kids.”
Parent Cheyenne Contreras with child at Books and Boots summer camp, Hoonah, June 2021
So what are some of the lessons learned from 2020 that school staff and other programs will incorporate into their regular practice?

  • Reach out early and regularly to your families. Share your contact information, best times to reach you and invite the families to call or to write to you whenever they have questions, concerns or ideas for supporting their child.

  • Don’t wait to call families when there is a problem with the student.  

Extending the Summer: Place Based Learning 
Students also got some fun classroom experiments, working on capillary action project science kits. Students got to model how plants bring water from their roots up to the rest of the plant! Photo Credit: Sarah Israelson
 Students work on the community garden’s raised seedbeds. The vegetables tended over the summer will be harvested when students return to school in the fall. Photo Credit: Sarah Israelson
In Yakutat, many teachers, parents, and students wondered what activities would be available this year. Fortunately, this summer had no shortage of learning opportunities. 
Throughout the season, students had the opportunity to attend Culture Camp, Summer Explorers, Surf Camp, and get hands-on science practice with STEAM activities like stop motion animation and capillary action kits

Students' minds were engaged the whole summer through hands-on and culturally grounded activities. Most importantly, students had plenty of time to enjoy the land and learn more about local knowledge and the beautiful place they live, Yakutat. 

Even with the rain and mosquitoes, students in Yakutat's Summer Explorers program could be heard chanting “Farther! Farther!”, and they were rewarded by seeing a boreal toad! Sarah Israelson, a lead organizer of this program, also shared that the students who went to Harlequin Lake had fun while learning about species succession on the trail that winds through the glacial rebound area.  

 Professional Learning
STEPS/CRESEL Trauma Engaged Community of Practice, June 2021, Methodist Camp, Juneau
“There have been many situations in my career as an educator that I have felt woefully underprepared for. At times, this vulnerability has paralyzed me and caused me not to grow. I came to realize, as a result of the reflections and peer support, that I didn’t have to be the all-knowing one. I just need to be willing to be a part of a team that will look at these important concepts and put them into action in our work with students and families” AK Middle School Counselor, participant in statewide trauma engaged learning community

Starting off with the Right Learning Structures:

We have all attended amazing training sessions that have filled us with inspiration but when we get back to work, we find that we are not putting our new ideas into practice. Research shows that most professionals can not sustain and integrate learning without peers or tools that help us reflect, trouble shoot, and continue to make improvements. 

School-based Learning or Organization Learning: 

Asking our Trauma Engaged champions across the region how to make sure you are supported and growing professionally, the number one need and suggestion was to be a part of an on-going network to engage in and share learning. In school settings this can be by grade, by role, across our STEPs communities, or even by broader interest area. 
Questions to reflect on:

  1. What teams are you a part of that help support your learning and curiosity?
  2. What are your and your team’s learning priorities for the year?
  3. As a champion or partner, what learning communities can you create to support on-going learning?
  4. How can this team move from knowing to doing (shifting from understanding to changing practice)?
  5. What structures are in place to reflect on new learning and practices? 
  6. Can STEPS partners help with training, facilitation, or planning scaffolded training or reflection?
  7. How are you measuring success? Are your trainings resulting in a change for students or families?

How do we do this better together? Learning as a STEPS collaborative.
As a part of the STEPS collaborative, we are working to elevate early childhood, conditions for learning in k-12, post-secondary success, and community-family driven outcomes. 

Partners are invited to join these virtual groups or to work with AASB/STEPS partners to set up sequenced professional development or local learning communities. 

Feel free to suggest additional groups needed for our STEPs collaboration.
If you would like to be a part of these groups or add a partner in your community to the invite list, please add the contact information to this document.
AASB Resources:

Below are some resources to help as you plan and get ready for the coming year.
Resources for supporting families and students in Trauma Engaged ways:
Resources for Partnering with families:
Best practices for youth leadership support:

 Upcoming opportunities

Next STEPS Meetings - Save the Date:

Based on the desire to meet as a group in smaller chunks of time more regularly, we have tentatively scheduled Regional Round-up sessions for all STEPS partners to occur every two months on the 2nd Thursday of the month from 3:30 to 5:00 pm. If these dates and times consistently conflict with other obligations for you and your team, please let us know and we will look to reschedule.
Please mark your calendars!
  • September 9th
  • November 11th
  • January 13th
  • March 10th
Each of these sessions will have a theme and an opportunity for cross-regional sharing and connection. 
Who should attend the Regional Round-ups?
Anyone on your team who works on STEPS projects or partners with a STEPS project! Think of those who might attend the annual STEPS gathering. 

For more information or questions, please contact Emily Ferry -
Looking for additional ideas? Check out the STEPS resources page for past newsletters and other STEPS-related resources.
Calling all tribal citizen youth near and far! Tlingit & Haida’s newly formed Youth Commission is pleased to announce the dates for their upcoming Youth Summit!

The focus of the summit is to provide our youth with opportunities to use their collective voice to influence change and learn how to engage in the tribal government process. Participants will work in conjunction with the Youth Commission and Advisory Board throughout the summit. Let your voice be heard and register now:

Dates: September 3 - 5, 2021

Summit Activities:
• Talking circles to explore issues facing youth
• Resolution drafting
• Workshops to expand knowledge & experience

For questions or more information regarding the Youth Summit, please contact the Navigators program at
After a successful inaugural online Tlingit Language course in 2020, we are thrilled to announce that Outer Coast is once again running Kashook’ Áa Ḵaa Ee Dultóowu Yé, a free online Tlingit language course for language learners in Sitka, Southeast, and beyond.
STEPS Newsletter - August 20021
STEPS newsletter
X̱’unei Lance Twitchell, Outer Coast faculty member and UAS Associate Professor of Alaska Native Languages, is returning to teach the course, and Anna Clock is reprising her role as coordinator and study session leader.

Kashook’ Áa Ḵaa Ee Dultóowu Yé will be co-hosted and sponsored by Sealaska Heritage Institute.

The Tlingit MOOC is free and open to all skill levels.

The course will run from Monday, August 2 to Thursday, August 19. Class meetings are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings 5:30-7:30pm AKDT. Study sessions will be hosted on Thursdays from 5:30-7:30pm AKDT.

Complete this form to sign up for the Tlingit Language MOOC. To learn more about the course, visit Anna Clock will share Zoom details with participants before the first class session. For any questions, email Anna at

The Outer Coast Team