Lower Yukon School District partners with Anchorage to bring rural students to CTE classes

The Lower Yukon School District doesn’t have many courses to help students prepare for hands-on technical careers. A new partnership with the Anchorage School District hopes to change that. The districts recently announced a program where students from the Lower Yukon will travel to Anchorage to take career technical, or CTE, courses.

Lower Yukon School District Superintendent Hannibal Anderson says there’s a high demand for career technical skills, but starting CTE courses in the district was expensive.

“Major inhibitors are the costs of quality CTE facilities, the challenges of being able to staff, reliably, people within those facilities,” Anderson said.

In addition to being built and staffed, programs would also need to be accredited. Anderson says the process would’ve taken several years and a lot of capital.

The plans is to have 50 juniors and seniors from LYSD travel to Anchorage for nine-week sessions at King Tech High School. There, students will have access to a wide variety of subjects, from welding and electrical technology, to cosmetology and health services. The LYSD purchased the former Long House hotel for $2.75 million, and that will serve as housing for the students.

Anderson says the whole process is meant to teach young people career skills that they can bring back to their communities.

“Many of the jobs require certain training or skill sets or certifications that many of the people within the region do not have,” Anderson said.

He also says that while a lot of focus is on more mechanical and construction fields, courses in subjects like cosmetology and culinary arts could lead to new industries in the region that wouldn’t have existed without CTE training.

Anchorage superintendent Deena Bishop says the benefits for the students extend beyond the classroom. She says the program will introduce rural students to an urban setting. That will include things like getting a driver’s license, making connections to businesses and even interacting with Native corporations.

“We wanna connect the students from their different regional areas to their regional corporations or tribal corporations to understand their own cultures, their own businesses, to know where the jobs are,” Bishop said. “And if the job is back home in the village, then look to that. If there are jobs here in Anchorage and they like it, look to that.”

King Tech High School generally allows for students to attend full time or part time in either a morning or afternoon block. The school is also opening up a third session to allow more Anchorage students to take CTE courses.

Kern McGinley is the acting principal at King Tech High. He says the classes enable communities to keep Alaskans in the state and build skills for jobs that often end up being filled by outsiders.

“We encounter this all the time,” McGinley said. “You go out of Alaska, you visit somewhere else. You get on a plan somewhere and then you’re sitting next to somebody who is heading to the North Slope, and they live in Texas.”

McGinley says an inverse concern came from representatives from LYSD who visited King Tech High who were worried that their young people would want to leave their communities and live in bigger cities. Missy Fraze, CTE director for ASD, says that they have already begun to reach out to businesses and industries in the Lower Yukon region to put a spotlight on the job opportunities that CTE skills will bring students in their hometowns.

“Working closely with the employers of those communities like YKHC (Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation) and the local telecommunications companies and Donlin (Gold),” Fraze said. “All of our industry partners, when we work close with them and design these programs to meet their local workforce needs, we can help put in place a pathway for students that maybe they didn’t realize was there.”

In the wake of large budget cuts proposed by the governor, LYSD Superintendent Anderson says that this partnership is an example of saving money while also trying to boosts outcomes in the schools.

The first batch of LYSD students is expected to begin their first session at the end of October. Anderson says they’re about to begin the process of traveling to schools in
the region to begin recruiting.