For the first time, earlier this month, Koyuk Malimiut High School students organized a bullying and substance abuse prevention workshop for their peers. On Saturday, May 11, Susan Hoogendorn, Meryl Otton, and Brittney Adams talked to their classmates about issues they identified as important.
While snacking on pizza, the students led their classmates in team building exercises and shared videos about how to deal with bullying, followed by discussion. The young leaders also created a pamphlet with facts about alcoholism, drugs, and smoking. Towards the end of the afternoon, they directed their classmates to make posters on what they learned, to be displayed in the school as reminders.
As her students led, Koyuk teacher Amanda Trower watched.
“Watching these students step up and take that responsibility was really fun to see, because these are kids I worked with for 3 years, and now, they’re actually getting to step up and be the leaders that they’ve been learning how to be. So that was really rewarding.”
In November, Trower brought two of her students, Susan Hoogendorn and Leo Charles, to a conference called Lead On, put on each year by the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA). The May student-led workshop was made possible by a $2,500 grant jointly funded by ANDVSA and Recover Alaska, which the students applied for after returning from the conference.
At Lead On, students were instructed to identify issues they want to tackle in their communities. Trower says her students had more than a few ideas.
“Narrowing it down, it was hard to focus just on bullying and substance abuse — we also wanted to talk about some other issues that we had seen.”
From there, Lead On helped with the tools Koyuk students needed to put on the spring event. Megan Juneau is the Youth Engagement Coordinator at ANDVSA. She organizes the Lead On conference. According to her, helping kids from communities like Koyuk, and all across Alaska, become leaders is part of a bigger picture.
“The goal is to work in prevention. So instead of doing something reactive, where something has already happened and you’re trying to protect people who are already victims, we’re trying to prevent victims from happening in the first place. So if you start with youth, who are passionate and smart, and able to engage and learn, then hopefully, the goal is that they learn social skills and decision-making skills that will protect them as they go into adulthood.”
Jessica Limbird is the Program Manager at Recover Alaska, the organization that helped to fund the Koyuk grant. She says their mission aligns with that of ANDVSA.
Issues aren’t siloed in our state, and neither should our solutions. Working collectively toward similar goals increases impact. For ANDVSA and Recover Alaska that means highlighting the resilience of young people and communities to prevent violence and alcohol misuse.
Applications for the November 2019 youth Lead On conference will be out in August. Megan Juneau spoke on what ANDVSA looks for in applicants.
“We just want kids who are motivated to make change in their community. You don’t have to be part of any youth leaders associations, you don’t need perfect grades — not from our end. Sometimes, the communities themselves will establish their own parameters, but we love any kind of kid who just wants to make a change.”
Travel scholarships are available for Lead On, too.
As for the Koyuk young leaders, they’ll be hosting one more small assembly coming up on the last day of school. This one will focus on teaching about substance abuse prevention and self-care to the younger, elementary school students.
Image at top: Over 25 students attended Koyuk’s student-led anti-bullying and substance abuse workshop on Saturday, May 11. Photo: Koyuk Malimiut School, used with permission.