From Nanwalek to Kenai, 36 Alaska Native students from across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were brought together at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai for UP STREAM Academy, a weeklong camp that focuses on building science, technology and relationships.
“We’re looking at connecting them to up-and-coming technology, but in a way where they are actually going to apply it to their world and in the future,” said Rachel Pioch, Title VI Tutor at Skyview Middle School and organizer of UP STREAM Academy.
Throughout the weeklong camp, Alaska Native students found themselves with jam-packed schedules that started with breakfast at 8 a.m. in the Challenger Center, which acted as the academy’s home-base throughout the week. Students and chaperones stayed on-site in the center’s dormitories.
“Our goal is to let them experience, connect to and apply an up-and-coming technology to their world,” Pioch said. “We want them to learn about their culture, invest in their relationships and future, while giving back to the community.”
They students spent one day exploring Kenai Peninsula College learning about potential college programs and another swimming at the Kenai Central High School pool. They also visited the K’beq’ Cultural Site in Cooper Landing to learn about their own heritage, painted flower beds at the Kenai Community Garden and picked up trash along the beach.
“This is the first (academy) we’ve done as part of the Native education program,” said Conrad Woodhead, the district’s Native Education Program Coordinator. “We’re hoping that it will be recurring because it’s great… We’re targeting STEM activities, obviously, but we’re also trying to bring in the cultural aspect as well.”
On Thursday morning, while the students flew drones around the entirety of the Challenger Center, they interacted with fellow Alaska Natives from across the peninsula.
“My favorite part was getting a ride here,” Bobby Eluska said. “I’m from Kodiak, but now I live in Nanwalek and I got to meet a lot people on the ride up from Homer.”
The students grasped the concept of drones quickly, flying them through hoops and having each drone transport sugar packets across the room.
“It’s fun ‘cause you get to carry stuff around,” Juvenaly Evans of Nanwalek said. “It’s pretty easy to learn and it lets me practice programming which is awesome.”
The students also get to take their drones home after the camp in order to continue their education.
“There have been a lot of highlights so far like… the kids’ face when they first get their drone to lift off,” Pioch said. “And then, they get to keep the drones because we want them to learn how they can use this technology outside of UP STREAM and how to adapt this technology to fit their circumstances.”
Each student was able to attend the program at no cost to them, thanks to Title VI, the Indian Education Program.
“It’s totally federally-funded, so the kid’s do not pay anything,” Pioch said. “This is coming directly from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
The program was designed for middle school students, but in future programs Woodhead said they plan to rotate the age groups.
During this week’s camp, the 36 Alaska Native students came from Tyonek, Nanwalek, Port Graham, Homer, Kenai, Soldotna, Sterling and Ninilchik.
“The need is there for us to be able to involve more kids in the STEM area and achieve,” Woodhead said. “Plus, it’s neat to see kids from across the district make connections and create resources, ‘cause these are relationships that they are going to have ongoing, for a long time.”
Reach Kat Sorensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.