Project GRAD encourages Cook Inlet students

  • By KAYLEE OSOWSKI
  • Saturday, June 7, 2014 11:16pm
  • News

Eleven years ago, a program called Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula began to encourage students to not only graduate high school, but also to succeed after graduation.

Mike Peterson, executive director, has been with the program for 10 years. He started as an instructional coach and became director in 2011. While high school graduation rates increased fairly quickly after the program began, he said, more recently post-secondary education enrollment has increased.

“Especially down the road with the kids that don’t attend college right out of high school, they’re coming back and talking to us a year, two years, three years later for reenrollment into some kind of post-secondary education whether it’s college or vocational school,” Peterson said.

Persisting in post-secondary education after enrollment has also increased, he said.

The program works with students from seven Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Schools — Nanwalek, Nikolaevsk, Ninilchik, Port Graham, Razdolna, Tebughna in Tyonek and Voznesenka.

Twenty-one students from those villages began the two-week summer institute program through Project GRAD at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer on Monday.

For morning sessions, students got to choose from robotics, radio journalism and making a difference — a language arts and communications course. In the afternoon, students take painting, fitness or team building.

“The idea is that it’s held on the college campus,” Peterson said. “They feel comfortable being on the campus; that it’s not some scary place.”

About 16 students are taking part in the dorm life living program after spending the day at KBC. The student stay overnight in a house rented by the program and learn about budgeting, meal planning, time management and communal living.

Randall Jones, who will be a junior in the fall in Tyonek, said he is enjoying dorm life.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s like your own house so you have to clean up and do chores and it’s really cool. “It teaches to take care of your stuff.”

Jones attended summer institute last year and said along with the classes and dorm life learning, he also learned about the Russian Old Believer culture from students who lived in those villages.

Prior attending summer institute, Elizabeth Ukatish, tribal liaison, said many students and their parents are apprehensive about breaking away from village life for two weeks.

“But when (the students) come back, the parents are like, ‘Holy cow, my kid learned so much and has stepped up so much and is learning to stand on their own two feet,’” Ukatish said.

Tim Haller, who will be a high school junior, said he was nervous when he went to his first summer institute last year. The Selodvia teen used to be quiet, but has since become more outgoing and a leader within his community.

Port Graham teen Rick Jager, who will be a sophomore in the fall, said his first summer institute experience is going well and he is meeting a lot of new people.

“Project GRAD has actually helped me become more socialized,” he said.

LaBri Estraba, who will be a junior at Ninilchik School next year, is attending her second summer institute. She said it’s fun seeing old friends and meeting new people.

“(Project GRAD) encourages you to step out of your comfort zone,” Estraba said. “I know not everybody wants to do that, but when they try it, they’re like, ‘Oh, this is actually OK.’”

If students complete two summer institutes or the equivalent and maintain a 2.5 grade point average, they qualify for a $4,000 scholarship. So far, Project GRAD has given $432,000 in scholarship funds.

Project GRAD also sponsors tours to in-state universities, colleges and vocational schools. Staff works with students through application processes and mentor sstudents through college.

Peterson said the program has shifted during the past five years to also provide outside-the-classroom skills such as leadership, being comfortable in unfamiliar settings and people skills.

“We work with schools where culture is very big whether is a Native village or a Russian Old Believer village,” he said. “It’s always different when you pick up and go to school either in Anchorage or even just in Homer.”

He said the program has worked on teaching more of the out-of-the-classroom skills with more weekend institutes. At the leadership institute students meet and learn from not only CEOs but also student leaders of University of Alaska Anchorage organizations. Through the career institute, Project GRAD students job shadow someone who works in the field they are possibly interested in perusing. At phlight club institute, students learn practical skills like building a support system, identifying strengths and giving back.

While Project GRAD programs exist throughout the U.S., Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula is the only one in Alaska.

In his 10 years with the program, Peterson said he has worked with some students since early elementary school and he’s enjoyed watching them grow.

“It puts a smile on my face,” he said.

More in News

In this Aug. 26, 2020, file photo, U.S. Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, speaks during a ceremony in Anchorage, Alaska. The longest-serving Republican in the U.S. House is appearing in a new round of ads urging Alaskans to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Ads featuring Young are being paid for by the Conquer COVID Coalition, Young spokesperson Zack Brown said by email Monday, Oct. 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen, File)
Young urges vaccination in new ads

Young, 88, “believes the vaccines are safe, effective and can help save lives.”

A portable sign on the Sterling Highway advertises a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinaton booster clinic held 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, at Homer High School in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
What you need to know about boosters

COVID-19 vaccine eligibility explained

Damage in a corner on the inside of the middle and high school building of Kachemak Selo School Nov. 12, 2019, in Kachemak Selo, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Repair costs rise as school facilities deteriorate

About $420 million worth of maintenance is needed at Kenai Peninsula Borough School District buildings.

Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell (center) presents Wildlife Trooper Laura Reid (left) with a Life-Saving Award for her efforts in rescuing a child from the Kenai River offshore of North Kenai Beach this summer, during a ceremony held by Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Oct. 13, 2021. Reid and Kenai River dipnetter Antoine Aridou (far right) rescued the 12-year-old on July 29, 2021. (Photo provided by the Office of the Governor)
Governor recognizes dipnetter, trooper for summer rescue

Wildlife Trooper Laura Reid received a Life-Saving Award and Antoine Aridou received a Governor’s Commendation.

COVID-19 (Image courtesy CDC)
State reports 3 more COVID deaths, more than 900 cases

The newly reported deaths push Alaska’s total to 594 COVID fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

In this July 1908 photograph provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office, the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear sits at anchor while on Bering Sea Patrol off Alaska. The wreckage of the storied vessel, that served in two World Wars and patrolled frigid Arctic waters for decades, has been found, the Coast Guard said Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office via AP)
Coast Guard: Wreck found in Atlantic is storied cutter Bear

The ship performed patrols in waters off Alaska for decades.

The Federal Aviation Administration released an initiative to improve flight safety in Alaska for all aviation on Oct. 14, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
FAA releases Alaska aviation safety initiatives

The recommendations, covering five areas, range from improvements in hardware to data-gathering.

Most Read