Students from across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District ditched their regular classes for two weeks and traveled to Anchorage for a rigorous, science-intensive learning experience.
A group of 47 Native Alaskan and Native American middle-school students are attending the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program Middle School Academy from Nov. 12-22, at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Being accepted into the program was a huge deal for the students that made it, said KPBSD spokesperson Pegge Erkeneff. She said she visited the Tebughna School in Tyonek last month when Jobena Bartels-Salas and Kristianna Standifer were waiting to hear if they would get to attend the academy.
“They were so excited about it,” Erkeneff said. “It is a huge motivator for them to leave their small village and meet with other students at the University of Anchorage.”
On Nov. 12, Bartels-Salas and Standifer were flown out of Tyonek and touched down on the Merrill Field Airport runway where they were picked up and whisked away to UAA, said Assessment and Federal Programs Director Tim Vlasak. Other students from Kenai Middle School, Nanwalek, Port Graham Elementary-High School, Susan B. English, Homer Middle School, Seward Middle School, Chapman Elementary and Ninilchik School were transported on buses, he said.
To qualify for the academy students had to have a B grade average and be on track to take Algebra in eighth grade. Then the application process began.
“Its like enrolling in college,” Vlasak said. “It’s a good experience, but a little overwhelming for middle-schoolers.”
Each year the district identifies the students eligible for the program and then contacts the principals who decide whether or not to address the potential trip with their students.
The school district focuses on intervention programs at all levels, Vlasak said. Targeted learning is not just for students that struggle with academics, he said.
The gifted programs offered for students in the district have very rigid criteria, Vlasak said. Classes taught in programs such as the academy open those focused learning experiences up to a larger pool of students.
This is the first time students have gone under the umbrella of the district, Vlasak said. This approach gives children the opportunity to learn with peers they may not have met otherwise, he said.
One of the first projects the selected students completed was building a computer, Vlasak said. They also took part in earthquake simulations and building sound, small-scale architecture like bridges, he said. They also slept overnight at the SeaLife Center in Seward.
The topics covered received hyper-focus, Vlasak said. While at school the students may spend one class period on an assignment, an entire day is dedicated to the subject at the academy, he said.
While attending the academy, the group starts their days at 7 a.m. and lights out is at 8:30 p.m. The students are working, learning and socializing at every moment in between, Vlasak said.
“At this point in the trip the students and teachers are pretty wiped out,” he said.
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