February 22, 2017
We are students from East, West, and Bartlett High Schools and we wanted to express some thoughts about recent news stories we’ve read about education.
We are members of the 90% by 2020 Anchorage Graduation Youth Task Force, (working toward a 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2020) and work in partnership with United Way and Anchorage Youth Development Coalition. We joined the task force because we wanted to make a difference in our schools.
Our focus over the past year has been school attendance. We have done research and presented to families, students and teachers about not only the importance of attendance, but also some of the difficulties some have in making it to school. We know the importance of working together to make a difference in education, so when we saw the article “Alaska’s two top education officials, Johnsen and Johnson, unite with goal to strengthen education,” we got pretty excited. We want to go to college and succeed, and education systems working together will help make that possible.
One thing we were excited about was the discussion around excellent educators and making it easier for Alaska students to become local teachers. When we talked about it, we realized that the traits we value most in our teachers are care, attentiveness and inspiration. When teachers go out of their way to make us feel welcomed and supported, we’re much more willing to work hard. Good teachers are important to our success, so the article “Anchorage School District suggests cutting 99 full-time teaching positions to close $15M budget gap” was discouraging for us, and it may have been for you, too. We hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, what can we do?
One of the other articles we read discussed the number of students taking remedial classes when they get to the University of Alaska: “University report finds too-high rates of Alaskans taking remedial classes.” Many of our peers speak English as a second or third language, so they may not have the opportunity to take high-level classes to prepare them for college. We’ve found that having outside help, whether tutoring from teachers or classmates or in other after-school activities, can really help. Another option is lowering the cost of remedial classes at the college level (we got that idea from some adults but think it’s a good one!) or helping us learn the skills we need before we graduate high school.
It struck us that school is not the only place we need supportive adults. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Teens who have positive connections with supportive adults are less likely to engage in drug and heavy alcohol use; be delinquent or involved in crime; or be homeless later in life than adolescents without those connections.”
We’d also like to challenge our community and state leaders to involve us in their conversations. Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we don’t have ideas. Let’s put it this way: Would you like a group of people who are not directly impacted by their decisions to decide how your office or home is run? We think it would be a great idea to have some youth working with your committees to improve educational outcomes.
These are just some ideas that we’ve had. We’re still working on projects to increase awareness and help raise graduation rates in our city. We really appreciate that the community cares about these issues.
We want to make a callout to the community to reach out to the many youth-serving organizations in Anchorage and volunteer. Having more than one supportive adult can literally change a young person’s life. Inspire us to be better and hold us accountable for our choices! A few awesome organizations you can volunteer with are Covenant House, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters and United Way of Anchorage.
Pa Ying Thao, Maija Smith-Mclendon and Filiberto Barajas Jr. are members of the 90% by 2020 Anchorage Graduation Youth Task Force, a group of students and graduates from East, West and Bartlett high schools in Anchorage working with the United Way and Anchorage Youth Development Coalition to improve education and graduation rates in Anchorage. Email, email@example.com. Other members contributing to this commentary are Anessa Feero, Haita Sallah, Joanne Encabo, Mon Vang, Mor Her and Sasha Addison.