• Keep the Promise Keep the Promise 

    We've all heard the ancient saying: "Whoever saves a child's life, it is as if he had saved the whole world."

    In view of that reality we decided to share actual photos of our students -- each telling a story from a personal point of view. We hope the lives of these children help us all keep the talk about budgets hopeful: what is best for the kids.
    The Promise we are referring to is the legislative commitment, made last year, to sustain educational funding. We ask our legislature -- we NEED our legislature -- to keep that promise.
    As a state we are all in this budget challenge together. Is cutting our children's needs and opportunities the only option we have?
    The articles in Keep the Promise will tell the stories of our students -- what they are learning, what they think about their world, what they are already doing to contribute to the hopeful solutions we all seek.

Please check out these blog articles!

  • Keep the Promise

    Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/30/2015
    There is one very clear measure of how well the State is doing.
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  • Teach me how to cut.

    Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/17/2015

    Teach me how to cut.

    Cutting can be difficult.
    And the first rule is: don't make anyone bleed when you do it.
    Case in point: $1.4 Billion was promised as credits to the oil companies and $32.2 Million was promised to the children of Alaska. Should the State break its "promise" to the oil companies, or should it break its promise to the schoolchildren of Alaska? How we cut, where we cut, makes all the difference. 

    “This year, for the first time in state history, we are making less than zero from a tax meant to compensate Alaska for the taking of its oil resources,” Gov. Bill Walker stated in January. 

    “I think we can all agree that an oil production tax that nets negative returns to the state does not meet Alaska’s constitutional mandate to develop our resources for the maximum benefit of the people. 

    Does the Legislature have the will to cut these cash payments to the oil companies?
    Does the Legislature have the will to restore the "one-time funding" to our children?
    Who is injured if the oil companies don't receive their $1.4 Billion -- multi-billion dollar corporations or our most precious resource: our children's education and success? 
    We think those are appropriate questions to ponder as we watch just one of our students work with one of our teachers to learn the proper way to cut.


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  • I love high school sports...

    Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/9/2015

    Don't cut sports!!

    Leo loves having sports at her school  
    Leonie Staudenmeyer doesn't have a political bone in her body. She arrived in Sitka last August, and started school as a Rotary International exchange student from Donzdorf, a village near Stuttgart, in September. Now almost finished with a full school year here in Sitka, Leo is busy enjoying every experience she can grab. This weekend she was chosen as a member of the Regional All-star Cheerleading Squad... the only Lady Wolves cheerleader selected!
    Leo certainly doesn't seem political, but she has a bright future as a diplomat! Her cheerful smiles and playful eyes keep her surrounded with fun and activity. She swims with the Sitka Varsity team, shouts with the cheerleading squad, and performs on the Mock Trial team, where she plays the role of an expert witness. "My mom says I should be an actor" she giggles. In Germany, when she is not engaged in her college prep high school studies she participates in soccer, horse vaulting (gymnastics with a real horse that moves), dance, badminton, and swimming club sports. She has 3 more years of high school and six to eight years of free college education, at which time (if her dad gets his way) she will have a doctorate in Aeronautics and Astronautics.
    What is different about the German and American approaches to sports? Leo is quick with her answer. "I like having varsity athletics like you do in the U.S. That is much better than Germany. And though we have some cheerleaders in Germany it is not like here. Cheerleading in Germany is like soccer here... not very big. Cheerleading is so much fun! I love how we stand 2 inches [yes, she said inches, not centimeters!] away from the athletes at the edge of the court. And we entertain the crowd, and get them to sing, and it is so much fun. I love it! That was one reason why I came to the U.S. to do cheerleading!"
    That's when Leo was asked if she knew what was happening at the Alaska Legislature. She shook her head. Did she know that 90% of our state revenue comes from oil taxes... and oil prices are down? No, that was news to Leo. Was she aware that the Legislature is trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of almost $3 Billion in tax revenue.... and that right now they are working hard to figure out a way to cut government services .... including education? Without hesitation Leo interjected -- "I wouldn't cut sports at all! It is way healthier." Oops... politics.... 

    What's so great about high school athletics?

    Since Leo didn't grow up here, she never had a chance to take high school sports for granted. She never had an opportunity to think of all these teams and sports, plus debate and Mock Trials ... and cheerleading ...  as a luxury. To her, sports that anyone can participate in are vital because, after all, it's an important part of education. It teaches character, discipline, grittiness and persistence. For Leo, "I like the school spirit you have here. Athletics is fun... and it's healthy."
    Leo probably hadn't read the studies which agree with her. For example, researchers from Cornell and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich teamed up to look at more than 700 WWII veterans who passed a stringent military physical exam in the 1940s. The team compared the snapshots of their health as soldiers with their health today, 50 years later. The study looked at all the factors one might think of ... type of job, eating habits, socioeconomic level, etc... and found "one critical youthful predictor of whether a man would be physically active after the age of 70: it was whether he participated in high school varsity sports." According to the reporting of Jim Baugh, founder of Phit in America, the study concluded that "school-based organized sports should be preserved because they contribute to later physical activity levels and decrease the risk factors for early morbidity."
    We urge everyone to consider the final paragraph of this ambitious study: 

    "The first suggestion would be to maintain or enhance high school athletic programs, even in an era of shrinking school budgets. It has been noted that physical education classes may be the only opportunity for many adolescents to engage in weekly physical activity*. School-based organized sports should be preserved because they contribute to later physical activity levels and decrease the risk factors for early morbidity...."

    *Gordon-Larsen P, McMurray RG, Popkin BM: Determinants of adolescent physical activity and inactivity patterns. Pediatrics 2000, 105(6):e83. 

    Athletics are FUN HEALTHY! 

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  • I promise to work hard.

    Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/8/2015

     I promise to work hard. 

    Tai practices his brazing technique.

    A few conversations with teachers and students at Sitka High School reveal that one of the most motivating opportunities that many students experience is the ability to make things with their own hands. The Career and Technical Education department at SHS focuses on both new and old technologies. In this photo a student practices his brazing technique. Whether or not he chooses to pursue a career that involves welding, he has enlarged his brain and his self-confidence with the skills of a metal worker.

    Other students focus on the design of various objects, and learn how to control the fabrication via digital software. 
    This Spring the CTE department is in a celebratory mood because the Department of Commerce grant which made possible the construction of a spacious Technical Education Center has borne fruit... and the building will soon be completed. Randy Hughey shares some of his excitement in the attached video.

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  • The smallest contributors may be the biggest

    Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/7/2015

    Little Contributors

    Violet and Nai'a sit in the front row of Ms. Horton's third grade class at Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary. A few weeks ago they received a 2015 Service Award at a city-wide ceremony.
    "I was really excited and a little bit nervous." Violet recalled. "I've never wanted to be president or anything but I'd like to be a leader that is nice and helps people get involved with their cultures."
    Violet says she enjoys visiting friends, attending the Sitka Native Education Program, fish camp, and weaving camp. She would like to be a veterinarian when she grows up.
    Nai'a is known throughout the school as an athlete. She plays basketball, baseball, and is a bronze level swimmer on the Baranof Barracudas Swim Team. She is also active in 4H and attends Sitka Fine Arts Camp classes.
    When asked about winning the Service Award, Nai'a said "I was surprised. I want to be remembered by my peers for helping people that can't do things. I help this man at the hospital that goes around picking up garbage everyday in his wheelchair."
    Nai'a would like to be something we may have never hard of: "An artist/doctor." You go, girl!
    "A leader that is nice."
    "Helping people that can't do things."
    Just the casual words of Violet and Nai'a as they chat about their goals. May each of us have that kind of goal.  They are only about 10... but they are already visibly contributing to their community! 
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  • 6 Big Reasons to Invest in Early Childhood Education

    Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/6/2015 9:00:00 PM

    Evaluting an Investment

    In this math class our kids discover how to evaluate an investment. They use exponential equations in algebra class to discover the real power of compounding.
    What is compounding? Building each day with the gains or losses of yesterday added to (or subtracted from) our resources. 
    What is the power of compounding? Every day is "a new now", built on yesterday's real gains or losses. There's a great "aha" moment for these kids when they start to get it:
    When we look at the value of education, we get a whole new appreciation for that "new now." Every day that kids are in school, they are gaining in value. Every cut that we make, especially in the younger years, also creates a new now. If we invest, our new now is positive, and compounds favorably. Fiscal conservatives like Nobel prize-winning economist James Heckman estimates the value of investing in early childhood is $7 in benefit for every $1 spent. That's 700 percent returns on our investment.
    If we cut back, we immediately create negative results. Now the problems compound, and suddenly instead of brain growth and socialization, we have stagnation and inability to learn. Intelligence may still be there, but the capacity to focus, persevere, and achieve is short-circuited. So our "savings" compound in a negative way that costs everyone in society, not just the poor and disadvantaged. Heckman emphatically urges that now and forever, even when we are in "budgetary crisis", we MUST invest in our children if we want the power of compounding to work for us, not against us.
    In today's article another researcher weighs in on the stunning benefits of early childhood education. His point is not only that there are long-term, down-the road economic benefits. There are also very real, very immediate short-term benefits that come from investing in our children. 

    6 Big Reasons for Early Childhood Education

    The following highlights originated in an article published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children.. It consists of statements by William Gilliam, co-author of “The Pre-K Debates: Current Controversies & Issues.” by Edward Zigler, Walters S. Gilliam and W. Steven Barnett. These remarks were quoted by the NAEYC.org website from an online Q&A event they held December 12-16, 2011. 

    Three non-economic arguments for investing in early childhood education.

    First, investment in high-quality early education is valuable from a social justice perspective. Many of our young children start their formal schooling far behind their peers from more affluent backgrounds. These children also deserve a shot at our Great American Dream. Our society is based on the promise that every person can have a decent chance to succeed in life. Education is the best vehicle of that hope, and early education holds the greatest promise for all our children to make the most of their later educational opportunities.

    Second, investment in high-quality early education is valuable from a citizenship-building perspective. One of the primary roles of education is to foster a strong citizenry. Many studies of the effectiveness of high-quality early education have shown the benefits in terms of improved citizenship skills.

    Third, investment in high-quality early education is valuable from an altruistic perspective. Do we really need research to prove to us that it is a good idea to feed hungry children, care for the health and well being of medically-vulnerable children, and provide socially enriching and cognitively stimulating environments to children who would be less likely to receive this elsewhere? As a researcher, I certainly value research. But I also believe that there are certain things that we should value and do simply because they are the right thing to do—period.

    Three economic arguments for investing in early childhood education:

    1. LONG TERM BENEFIT - First, there are clear economic values for the children who attend. From many studies of model programs, such as the Perry Preschool and Abecedarian Projects, as well as broader programs such as the Chicago Child-Parent Centers, we know that every dollar invested in early education yields back many dollars in societal savings from outcomes such as: 

    1. reduced grade retention and special education placement; increased income and property taxes paid as adults;
    2. decreased reliance on public assistance; 
    3. and decreased costs associated with crime, adjudication, and incarceration. 

    This is discussed by Nobel Laureate Economist James Heckman in the first chapter of The Pre-K Debates: Current Controversies and Issues, as well as several other chapters.

    2. IMMEDIATE BENEFIT - Second, there are clear economic values for the working parents of children who attend, as well as for their employers—both large and small businesses. Early education, when offering enough hours of service, plays an important role in providing safe, affordable, and available child care for working families. Child care was seen early as an important ingredient of welfare-to-work reform. Child care makes employment possible and profitable for millions of working families, and the benefits are felt by employers who report fewer worker absences.

    3. IMMEDIATE BENEFIT - Third, there are clear economic values for the many people who work in the larger early care and education enterprise. These include teachers, assistant teachers, directors, consultants, social workers, nurses, speech-language therapists, teacher preparation faculty, cooks, administrative assistants, bus drivers, and many others. These people earn a very modest (too modest) living while performing a massive public good. And they likely spend their wages locally, keeping local businesses thriving and paying sales, income, and property taxes. Sadly, preschool teachers and child care professionals are not even eligible for the federal tax break for K-12 teachers! It is this “third economic benefit” of early education that is often forgotten – but it is a huge one.
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  • I love to learn.

    Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/4/2015

    "I love to learn"

    Walking into Wooch.een the thing that must strike most observers is the relaxed and engaged nature of the children. Clearly, they love being there, and they love to learn.
    Many of them hug their teachers as they jump off the bus. They sing songs -- dancing to cultural songs and reciting Alaska Native alphabet letters and numbers.

    Wooch.een Yei Jigxhtoonei is a Tlingit phrase

    that means "We are working together."
    How apt. There are many cultures, family backgrounds and circumstances here on the Sitka Fine Arts campus. And this togetherness is intentional, as well. The children aged three to five years old who attend Wooch.een are Sitka School District students eligible for the pre-kindergarten program, children enrolled in Tlingit and Haida Head Start Program, and children who are tribal citizens of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
    The interaction is rich and genuine. The children and the adults are living the Wooch.een philosophy to be benefit of all the children.
    This pleasing pastiche must be another reason why these children seem so relaxed and playful -- engaged with the teachers and each other. Teachers do not seem to spend much energy keeping order.
    The children are actively engaged in the play-based learning activities, and the teachers seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves. 
    Teachers do not seem to spend much energy keeping order. The kids are remarkably self-controlled, and the teachers seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves.
    It was amazing to see the kids line up to go wash their hands, and then sit at table to eat their family style breakfast and lunch. They passed their food, ate while engaging in pleasant conversation. These are four-year-olds, after all -- and yet they ate wholesome meals in a civilized way. Amazing! 
    They poured their own milk. One little girl spilled hers, and a paper towel was quietly offered. The child wiped up the spill herself, without guilt or stress.
    On the walk to the playground, the children held hands in a buddy system until they were safely inside the gates, and then split apart in self-directed play. Some wrote with chalk, some organized themselves into "Red Light, Green Light." Some climbed the jungle gym, others got started on the swings.
    During academic lessons it was inspiring to see students focusing on the tasks at hand: assembling Lego-style blocks into multi-colored squares, and then coloring a chart in the same pattern as the blocks. The wheels were turning as little minds took pride in grasping the concept of a pattern -- one which they chose, they assembled, and they documented.

    Are we learning our own pattern lessons?

    This week, as we confronted the realization that this kind of program could be axed to "balance the budget", other patterns came into view as well.
    • If at-risk children spend several hours a day in preschools that provide nutrition, learning opportunities and character guidance, they are MUCH more likely to catch up to their peers, and therefore much LESS likely to drop out and spiral down.
    • The House Finance Committee has been looking at the idea of cutting just over $3.5 million dollars from early childhood education programs -- completely eliminating three of the four programs impacted (Best Beginnings, Parents as Teachers, and Pre-Kindergarten grants).
    • Nobel Prize in Economics recipient Dr. James Heckman states: "Investing in early childhood education ... shows a 7% to 10% per year return on investment..." That's greater than the stock market average during the boom years prior to 2008. At 8.5%, that means Alaska will receive more than double our investment back by the time today's preschoolers finish middle school, and triple our investment -- $11 Million dollars in taxes raised and savings to state expenditures -- by the time they are 18. Professor Heckman summarizes: "Investing in early childhood education is a cost- effective strategy—even during a budget crisis. Deficit reduction will only come from wiser investment of public and private dollars. Data show that one of the most effective strategies for economic growth is investing in the developmental growth of at-risk young children...."
      Click here to download the full article by James Heckman on the Economic Benefits of Early Education
    • According to The Ounce, if we cut their early childhood opportunities this about-to-be-lost generation are:
      • 25% more likely to drop out of school
      • 40% more likely to become a teen parent
      • 50% more likely to be placed in special education (which costs $)
      • 60% more likely to never attend college
      • 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime
    • With this type of impact from the proposed budget cuts, expect at least 500 of Alaska's 25,000-child 0-5 cohort to do jail time -- kids that we have it in our power to get off to a stronger start that could avoid that outcome. (Currently 5000 men and women are in jail in Alaska, and 6000 are being managed in parole and probation programs. Most of these grew up in "at-risk" situations that we know we can significantly improve through early intervention) If they each do a year behind bars that is 500 x $50,000 or $25 million that will be spent by taxpayers in future years so that we can "save" $3.5 million now. No wonder Heckman estimated that the total return on investment on early childhood programs (birth to age 5) is $7 for every $1 spent. "Saving" $3.5 Million is actually spending $25 million, not counting inflation. 
    • As part of his research, Professor Heckman did a detailed microeconomic analysis of two 40-year studies of early childhood intervention in Ypsilanti, Michigan and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. As Bloomberg Business reports it, "In 2010 [Heckman] and several co-authors produced what he called the 'first rigorous cost-benefit study' of the Ypsilanti program. The free instruction cost $17,759 per child per year in 2006 dollars (the year they began working with the data). Heckman set out to find out what taxpayers got for that money. He calculated what the program had saved the state and federal government in social welfare, what it had paid out in increased tax revenue from higher wages, and, most significantly, what it had saved in police, court, and prison costs. The initial investment provided what Heckman calls a “return to society” at an annual rate of 7 percent to 10 percent. Put another way, each dollar spent at age 4 is worth between $60 and $300 by age 65. “For my Republican friends, that’s a language they respect,” says Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education. 
    • The social benefits of these very real life changes are also remarkable. Brendan Greeley states:

    At age 40, the subjects from the Ypsilanti study were far more likely than their peers to have graduated from high school and have jobs. They were more likely to own homes and less likely to have needed social services. The boys were more likely to have grown up to raise their own children and less likely ever to have been arrested. Children from the program in Chapel Hill had higher test scores than their peers through adolescence and were more likely to have gone to college. 


    • And then there is the individual economic opportunity, which is incalculable. According to Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce, every child who graduates high school will earn an average of half a million dollars MORE in their lifetime than those who do not. If through early childhood education we help 1000 -- just 4 percent -- of our kids graduate high school who wouldn't have, that's an economic benefit of $500 million. If a quarter of those (just one percent) go on to get a bachelor's degree... that's another $250 million in salary differential across their lives. Easily a billion dollars more could be produced in those children's lives... and the Alaskan economy as a whole. We cannot afford NOT to invest in programs like Wooch.een.


    The simple power of these economic arguments transcends ideology, and across the country, Bloomberg Business reports that "fifteen governors, more Republicans than Democrats, included new money for early childhood education in their budgets in 2013. In all, states are now spending $400 million more on pre-K than before the economic downturn. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who meets with Heckman often, says much of this activity can be credited to Heckman’s work. 'You have this Nobel prize-winning economist and not some soft-hearted someone like me,' says Duncan. “It’s incredibly powerful.'"

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  • I am the future of Alaska

    Posted by Zelena Z. Stablo on 3/2/2015 8:00:00 AM
    Harry learns how to run a CNC router with teacher Mike Vieira.  

    I am the future of Alaska.

    On a typical school day Harry can often be found in the wood shop, metal shop, or Fab Lab at Sitka High school. "Fab Lab teaches us how to manufacture our own products ... how to design something in wood or metal or plastic and then to actually fabricate our design -- a real entity, not just a digital entity."
    Harry has a high forehead and penetrating eyes, which flash when he talks about his projects. "You learn how to create 3D images of your idea on a computer, and then send those images to a 3D printer, a router, or LASER cutter. Once you learn all that, really anything becomes possible to you. I needed a compass for drawing circles in math class and didn't want to buy one... so I made one on the 3D printer. You can design a house... or turn your favorite character into an action figure. Anything you want. I think that's why a lot of kids like to take these classes."
    Harry doesn't come across as the talkative type, but he didn't need any coaxing to wax eloquent about his education. "I take these classes for experience. I want to be an engineer. For me, hands-on applications are vital. That's just how I learn. I think a lot of kids -- maybe most kids nowadays -- are that way. I see myself as being able to do it all -- the design, the fabrication -- everything."
    When asked what he sees as the future of Alaska, Harry said: "Alaska is rich in resources -- we have more than enough skilled people here to start a manufacturing program -- but we don't have the job opportunities yet because no one has established an action plan to start a business. I'd love to start a company here -- and make products in Alaska."
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