2023 Youth Advocacy Institute Recap
Connor Meyer, Community Engagement Educator
We all are working to support students to be successful, but do we know what they need to be successful? What personal, interpersonal, or community supports or challenges impact them the most. What can school districts, Legislators, and organizations do to support Alaska students?
Youth Advocacy Institute (YAI) is a unique opportunity for students from across Alaska to convene in Juneau once a year to learn advocacy skills, share their views on the building blocks for student success, and learn more about the legislative inner-workings.
On February 4-7, 55 students exchanged ideas with other students, worked to develop testimony and positions with their school district, and learned about current bills and how to pass a bill.
The following districts were represented:
Aleutians East • Anchorage • Copper River • Cordova • Delta Greely • Denali Borough • Galena • Iditarod Area • Juneau • Kake • Kashunimut • Kodiak • Mount Edgecumbe • Nome • North Slope • Northwest Arctic • Sitka • Yupiit
Many topics were covered in group and breakout session type settings. Over two days, students had the chance to discuss their thoughts on improvements with other students from their region. Below are responses from the question:
What are the most pressing issues facing your school and community?
Students gathered in small groups to discuss the most pressing issues facing them in their community. One or more students in these groups shared the topics most important to them.
Denali, Anchorage, Delta Greely
- Funding for lunches and affordable lunches
- Disrespect felt from some school leadership
- Staffing within the district
- Community involvement with the school
- Access to mental health supports
Sitka, Mount Edgecumbe, Kake
- Access to ferry service
- LGBTQ and gender inclusivity
- Racism and punishments
- More VPSO – Law Enforcement
- Offer alternatives to vaping and substance abuse
Cordova, Copper River
- Cost of living
- Lack of Native representation
- Diminishing school staff numbers
- Public safety concerns
- Access to mental health supports
Aleutians East, Nome, Kodiak, Galena
- Lack of variety of classes
- Building maintenance
- Lack of resources for mental health
- College readiness
- Lack of funding for special needs students
- Safety training for substitutes
- Drug and substance abuse
- Food quality and healthy options
- Needing more travel opportunities
- Post high school career tech programs
Kashunamiut, Yupiit, Iditarod Area
- Working sewer systems
- Cheaper electricity programs
- The need for caregivers
- Student self confidence
- Difficulty going to college
Northwest Arctic, North Slope
- Teacher stability and teacher retention
- Mental, social, and emotional health supports
- More opportunities for rural students
- Culture responsive teachings for staff
- College preparation
Students also drafted and practices their own testimony on HB 26 – Council for Alaska Native Languages, and SB 24 – Public Schools: Mental Health Education. The mock testimonies were presented in front of a panel which included Representative Andi Story, Joe Nelson, Lisa Worl, and Tesla Cox.
In addition, students had the chance to speak to and ask questions of Senator Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks), Senator Bjorkman (R-Nikiski), Representative Stutes (R-Kodiak), and Representative Ortiz N/A-Ketchikan).
Students took their voices a step further, and presented their testimonies in front of the larger Fly-In session, as well as at the Capitol.
In order for students to safely share their views, we must continue to give students the space to feel comfortable and advocate for their needs. Some questions that school board members and educators may ask student leaders are included below.
The student leaders at the youth advocacy were brave and authentic. Their testimony showed their passion as students went above and beyond during the 4 short days they were in Juneau. It is obvious that the future of Alaska is in good hands with the youth of today.
- What goals are you hoping to achieve, and what supports do you need?
- What can I do to support you?
- Who else can help you meet your goals.
- What makes you feel heard in discussions?
- What are other ways we can include you in decision making?