Category Archives: education

‘The Orchestra Rocks’ on a roll — Kenai Peninsula concerts get national distinction

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Peninsula Orchestra Artistic Director Tammy Vollom-Matturro rehearses for the annual Link Up concert with fourth-graders at Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai on Thursday.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Peninsula Orchestra Artistic Director Tammy Vollom-Matturro rehearses for the annual Link Up concert with fourth-graders at Mountain View Elementary School in Kenai on Thursday.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Step aside, Carnegie Hall. The Kenai Peninsula Orchestra’s Link Up program took center stage.

“It is a very education, fun concert. Every year we seem to do a little bit more and more. This year we’ve got 10 schools participating, which us the most ever,” said Tammy Vollom-Matturro, artistic director for the orchestra and coordinator for the Link Up concerts in Homer on Friday and Kenai on Saturday.

The program is a collaboration with Kenai Peninsula Borough schools, with students in third, fourth and fifth grades performing live onstage with the orchestra.

Link Up is put together by Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, which provides the music, teacher guides, student materials and a slideshow to be played during the concert. Partner orchestras and schools across the country and around the world participate, including a giant concert at Carnegie Hall itself, which usually kicks off the program.

Except for this year, where the honor went to the Kenai Peninsula.

“I got a phone call from a lady from Carnegie Hall and she said, ‘You guys are the world premiere of The Orchestra Rocks.’ And I went, ‘What?’ And she said, ‘Yeah, we usually premier the concerts in Carnegie Hall first.’ But they love what the Kenai Peninsula does with the Link Up program and they’re letting us premiere it first,” Vollom-Matturro said.

The orchestra also recently received the Alaska Music Advocate of the Year Award from the Alaska Music Educators Association, in part for the Link Up program.

“We support music education. It’s in our mission statement, to do education, so we do a lot of stuff that includes kids,” Vollom-Matturro said.

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Laugh riot — Nikiski students incite debate in mock rebellion

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ross Halliday incites his fellow Nikiski High School students to secede from the Kenai Peninsula Borough with a fiery speech delivered Dec. 10 at the school. The assembly was a joint project between Joe Rizzo’s English and Darren Zibell’s social studies classes.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Ross Halliday incites his fellow Nikiski High School students to secede from the Kenai Peninsula Borough with a fiery speech delivered Dec. 10 at the school. The assembly was a joint project between Joe Rizzo’s English and Darren Zibell’s social studies classes.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

The students of Nikiski High School are fed up, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

“I denounce this Kenai Peninsula Borough, living through this oppression that is called school is unacceptable,” said Nikiski senior Kade Anderson. “Our duty is to be free and the borough should not be able to infringe upon it.”

Students in Joe Rizzo’s English and Darren Zibell’s social studies classes presented their declaration of sovereign independence Dec. 10 to “Colonial Governor (aka, Principal) Dan Carstens, school district Superintendent Sean Dusek and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre. Representatives of the four new micronations the students intend to form — North Roadia, Order of the Guilds, Kratia Novus and Dysfunctional Dystopia — explained their intentions to secede from the borough, giving the officials a chance to respond and restore unity to the land.

Convincing the Bostonians that taxation without representation wasn’t really such a bad idea might have been an easier sell.

“Better to live a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep. These are the words under which we rally,” said Ross Halliday, borrowing some quotes from Mussolini to a roar of cheers from the crowd. “I can say that their goal to turn us to mice has failed. Liberty is a duty, not a right. We recognize this and we ascend to the helm of victory. We do not argue with those who disagree with them. We destroy them!”

“You’re scaring me a little. This sounds like a real insurrection, we’re talking about blood and tyranny. It sound like you’re pretty serious about this,” Mayor Navaare said, braving the podium. “So what I’m going to do is to encourage the colonial governor and the superintendent to figure this out before we have to call in Michelle Obama to straighten you guys out.”

“Well it is a rebellion, so they’re not very orderly,” Rizzo responded. “You’ve had borough assembly meetings like this, Mike, I know you have.”

In amongst the boos, cheers and podium-thumping theatrics, the students gave speeches enumerating their list of grievances, pointing out inconsistencies and presumed injustices under which they are oppressed.

Why do other schools have vending machines, but Nikiski Middle-High School does not? Why do juniors and seniors have the privledge of leaving campus, but sophomores do not? Why are sweatshirts from the Homer bar Salty Dawg not allowed, when clothing from Walmart or similar retails that sell alcohol are?

Haley Miller cited National Sleep Foundation and Centers for Disease Control findings that students are not getting enough sleep to function at their best, arguing that school should start at 9:30 a.m., instead of catering to adults’ earlier schedules.

“If you are able to find a flaw in my reasoning it’s probably because I had to get up at an ungodly hour to get ready to come to school and write and deliver this speech,” Miller said.

Alecia Bridges took on the school’s dress code, in which hats are not allowed, nor is clothing that advertises a bar, or that bares shoulders or too much leg.

“Students should be allowed to express their unique, individual personalities through their style and clothes with less restrictions,” she said. “… We don’t want to hear, ‘Well, when I was your age.’ No. This is the new generation and the world is not the same as it was then. … If a guy wants to wear a hat, why not, if it doesn’t have vulgar language or an explicit graphic? For that matter, if a guy wants to wear a dress and heels or if a girl wants to wear men’s clothing then their personal style should not be based on gender preferences.”

Sam Tauriainen advocated for a loosening of the school’s cellphone restrictions.

“I think that as students we owe a certain respect to our teachers in class, that when we’re in class I think we should stay off our phones,” he said. “… But I think that during passing period we should be allowed to be on our phones.”

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Budgeting for quality — U of Alaska tries to trim costs without losing students

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Redoubt Reporter file photo. KPC’s Career and Technical Education Center’s simulator lab at the Kenai River Campus. The equipment is patterned after what students will encounter working in the oil and gas fields. KPC is recognized within the university system for its career readiness programs and community support for its JumpStart dual-credit high school program.

Redoubt Reporter file photo. KPC’s Career and Technical Education Center’s simulator lab at the Kenai River Campus. The equipment is patterned after what students will encounter working in the oil and gas fields. KPC is recognized within the university system for its career readiness programs and community support for its JumpStart dual-credit high school program.

Of the many forms of budget wrangling going on in Alaska these days, the University of Alaska’s challenge is a particularly difficult one — to handle an as-yet unknown deficit number in such a way that doesn’t put itself further in the hole by driving away one of its main sources of revenue — students.

“There’s a very strong commitment to quality, to access and to affordability,” said University President Jim Johnsen during a visit to the central Kenai Peninsula last week. “Those are the three criteria that we are focused on as we evaluate what we do and how we do it, academically and administratively.”

The University Board of Regents recently approved an operating budget for next fiscal year that includes about $378 million in state funding, up 7.6 percent more than last year. That’s including a 5 percent tuition hike approved in February and another 5 percent approved in November. Johnsen said it’s a lean budget that covers the university’s fixed costs, and he’s outspoken about the importance of fulfilling the university’s mission to offer higher education throughout Alaska.

“And it really, I think, has to do with meeting the state’s need for work force, contributing to economic development and diversification in our state, for producing an informed citizenry … and also in solving the state’s problems,” he said.

There are some options for generating more revenue. The University of Fairbanks is a world leader in Arctic research, for example, and there are opportunities for commercializing research as well as drawing more research funding.

Johnsen also advocates for expanding ties with the business community, both in terms of donations — especially with a higher education tax credit in Alaska that rewards businesses for donations to the university — and in terms of lobbying support.

“When we go to Juneau, they know why we’re there, but when, name the company, if they go and speak on behalf of the university, that’s invaluable for us,” he said.

Alumni should expect to hear more pleas for financial support, and a fundraising campaign is in the works.

At the same time, the university is preparing four budget scenarios to meet a range of potential cuts, from $15 million to $58 million.

“We expect budget cuts, and so pressure will definitely be on the university, ‘What are you going to do? How are you going to consolidate programs? What programs are you going to eliminate? What programs are you going to reduce? How are you going to rationalize your administration and bring those administrative costs down?’” he said.

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Kenai school gets Blue Ribbon — Kaleidoscope recognized for excellence

Photo courtesy of Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science. Students at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science visit a high tunnel to learn practical science lessons. The school was recently honored by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School.

Photo courtesy of Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science. Students at Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science visit a high tunnel to learn practical science lessons. The school was recently honored by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

When Kaleidoscope School of Arts and Science opened as a kindergarten through sixth-grade charter school in 2004, the teachers hoped to offer the best educational practices and instruction they could to the 88 students that inaugural year. Since then the school’s enrollment has grown to 252 students, but the commitment to excellence remains the same, evidenced by Kaleidoscope receiving a National Blue Ribbon School award.

“To me, this validates the hard work that goes into making the right choices for kids,” said Robin Dahlman, principal at Kaleidoscope for the past five years.

The U.S. Department of Education recognizes outstanding schools annually, selecting ones in which, “Their leaders not only articulate a vision of excellence and hold everyone to high standards, they stay close to the real action of teaching and learning. Mutual respect and trust run deep in their cultures. Faculty are supported by mentoring and professional development and have time to coordinate their work. Data from many sources drive adaptations to support every student. Families and educators work together in trust.”

This year, 285 public and 50 private schools were honored during the award ceremony earlier this month. Kaleidoscope was one of only three schools in Alaska to receive the honor, and one of only 15 charter schools recognized nationally. Dahlman, along with Kelli Stroh and Nicole Shelden, two teachers at the school since its founding, flew to Washington, D.C., last week to accept the award.

“The past 11 years have been a privilege to embark on such an exciting journey of teaching through the arts and sciences,” Stroh said. “Our school is very honored to be recognized for thinking outside the box. The award is not only for our school but the entire Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. Our school district was just put on the national map for school of excellence.”

Schools are usually recognized in one of two categories — closing a wide gap between low- and high-performing students, or, as with Kaleidoscope, exemplary high performance over a five-year period.

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Firsthand egg take on fishing knowledge —  Students learn about life cycle in school salmon program

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Addison Havrilla, a third grader from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, touches a coho salmon during the annual “egg-take,” which took place along the bank of Bear Creek near Seward last Tuesday and the Anchor River last Wednesday. The events were part of the “Salmon in the Classroom” program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Addison Havrilla, a third grader from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, touches a coho salmon during the annual “egg-take,” which took place along the bank of Bear Creek near Seward last Tuesday and the Anchor River last Wednesday. The events were part of the “Salmon in the Classroom” program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

“Why don’t salmon have eyelids?” It may sound like the start of a joke but was a real question, one of many asked and answered during this year’s Salmon in the Classroom program, presented by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Aquatic Education program and the Kenai Peninsula School District. The program took place along the banks of Bear Creek near Seward on Oct. 6 and the Anchor River on Oct. 7.

For the record, the answer is because they live in a liquid environment, so their eyes don’t dry out.

That’s a concept some of the students participating had never considered, which is partially the point of the program — to get kids thinking about the aquatic animals that many have spent their lives around, yet never really learned the basics about.

“It’s cute some of the things that they think and say when we start going over salmon identification, biology, life cycles and habitat requirements,” said Jenny Cope, a Fish and Game sportfish biologist from the Soldotna office.

During the course of the two-day egg take, Cope said that she hears just about every question imaginable, this year from about 300 students at Bear Creek and 400 at the Anchor River, as well as some reasonably well-thought-out, though still incorrect, answers to her own queries.

“No, it’s not fertilizer the male puts on the eggs,” she said at the Anchor Point location. “No, it’s milt with a ‘T,’ not milk that comes out of the males,” she corrected another. “Yes, there is a king salmon, but no, there is no queen salmon,” she added later.

While the kids were a little unclear how it all worked at the beginning of the day, seeing — and for a lucky few students — feeling how the process of salmon egg fertilization works became as clear as crystal creek water.

“We hope that this is memorable for them,” Cope said.

What wouldn’t be memorable about seeing a plump-bellied, ripe and ready-to-spawn female coho salmon sliced open and her thousands of fluorescent pink eggs plopped into a clear plastic bucket, followed by a crimson-colored male fish massaged down his large abdomen until he squirts a creamy stream of milt onto the eggs.

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Harvesting knowledge — Schools cultivate learning opportunities with gardening projects

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kindergartener Jaxson Bush is assisted by sixth-grader Emilie Hinz while digging up potatoes from a garden at Tustumena Elementary School on Friday. The garden was planted to give kids hands-on learning experiences with science and math, as well as teaching them about the origins of the food they eat.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kindergartener Jaxson Bush is assisted by sixth-grader Emilie Hinz while digging up potatoes from a garden at Tustumena Elementary School on Friday. The garden was planted to give kids hands-on learning experiences with science and math, as well as teaching them about the origins of the food they eat.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Outside his classroom at Tustumena Elementary, sixth-grader Sam Booker dropped to his knees and began to claw at the soft, rich earth. His glasses slid to the end of his nose and dirt got under his nails, caked to his hands and stained the sleeves of his fleece jacket.

He was digging with the zeal of someone doing a task they want to do, rather than are told to do, but this was no recess game. It was part of a science lesson, learning in the most hands-on way possible. As the blond-haired boy plucked a small, round, red spud from the ground, a smile grew across his freckled face.

“I got one,” he shouted. Almost simultaneously, kids around him echoed similar sentiments as they, too, pulled up potatoes — reds, purples and Yukon golds in various lumpy shapes and sizes.

“It’s hard to imagine that, three years ago, there was no fence, no garden, nothing,” said sixth-grade teacher Shonia Werner.

The potato patch is in a 60-by-40-foot area adjacent to the school.

The kids planted it at the end of last school year, as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Schoolyard Habitat program. The aim was to make school grounds more hospitable to wildlife while simultaneously providing a place for children to learn about and connect with nature.

Now in its second full year, the program is operating at Kaleidoscope School of Art and Sciences in Kenai, Sterling Elementary and Tustumena Elementary.

Part of the Tustumena habitat plot was planted with 200 felt-leaf willows, a hearty variety that’s often used for stream-bank restoration projects. Dan Funk, Schoolyard Habitat coordinator with the Kenai Soil and Water Conservation District, did the bulk of the willow planting, hoping the school could eventually sell clippings as a fundraiser, while the kids could learn about science, nature and ecology in the interim.

Wanting to ripen the area for learning opportunities while the willows matured, instructors at the school also decided to plant a small garden, primarily made up of potato varieties due to their ability to thrive with minimal care during the summer break. It was clear from questions asked by this batch of sixth-graders this fall that they were in need of some food-chain knowledge.

“Are those the potatoes?” said one boy, pointing to the willow trees when the class first got outside. But by the end of the day, every student, from the sixth-graders down to the kindergarteners, knew what a potato plant looked like, that potatoes grew underground rather than on a bush like fruit, and a little about the annual cycle of planting, growing and harvesting.

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Cultivating learning experience — Kasilof students digging the opportunity to grow

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Students at Tustumena Elementary School spread soil, dig holes and plant willows and garden crops last week as part of Schoolyard Habitat project.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Students at Tustumena Elementary School spread soil, dig holes and plant willows and garden crops last week as part of Schoolyard Habitat project.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

For some students, particularly those living in metropolitan or urban areas, learning about wildlife and wilderness habitats is an abstract concept learned from books or seen only by taking field trips. Not so for Alaska kids. They need only look out the window to see the woods and quite possibly a moose or some other wild animal.

Wanting to capitalize on the unique opportunities afforded students in this area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed the Schoolyard Habitat program, which aims to make school grounds more hospitable to wildlife, while simultaneously providing a place for children to learn about and connect with nature.

Now in its second full year, the program has expanded to three peninsula schools — Kaleidoscope School of Art and Sciences in Kenai, Sterling Elementary and Tustumena Elementary in Kasiof, which took on an ambitious end-of-the-year project.

“It doesn’t look like much now, but come back in five years,” said Dan Funk, district Schoolyard Habitat coordinator, about the fenced-in, 60-by-40-foot area adjacent to Tustumena Elementary. Fifth- and sixth-grade students spread topsoil, dug holes and planted 200 willow saplings, as well as some garden foods, last week.

The bulk of the funding for the project came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, augmented by in-kind contributions of materials and labor from the community, and a grant from the Scott Paper Company via the Department of Natural Resources.

“We ordered felt-leaf willow, which is a hearty variety and one often used for stream bank restoration projects,” Funk said, adding that currently, the demand for these willows exceeds the supply.

“The intent is, in a few years, these willows could be cut to be sold for those purposes, and in the meantime, the schools can pack in as much education around them as possible,” he said.

Marina Bosick, a teacher at Tustumena and one of the people who championed getting the program at the school, said the willow planting and eventual harvest would be in line with several objectives already taught.

“It’s our hope to be able to use cuttings from our willows to help with projects on Crooked Creek, where the sixth grade is already a part of the Adopt-A-Stream Program. There may also be other projects on the Kasilof we could help with in the future, as well. Hopefully, these activities will translate into good environmental stewardship,” she said.

The willow is only one part of the project. Some of the designated area will be used for a small garden.

“We didn’t want to do just willow. We wanted to do something annually, and a little more exciting for kids,” said instructor Shonia Werner, another key person in bringing the program to Tustumena.

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