By Greta Mart/KHNS
The 2015-16 school year is underway at the Skagway City School. Students, teachers and administrators there are excited about some brand new technology. And there’s a new faculty member whose job involves helping both the youngest and oldest Skagway students succeed.
Last week, Aaron Schmidt’s high school students were unpacking the school’s newest high tech tool. It’s a 3D printer for the school’s STEM classroom – where kids learn science, technology, engineering and math.
“We’ve never had a tool like this here in our school and to be able to put that – it’s still in the box – in front of students and say go for it, figure it out is pretty exciting. And we plan to incorporate this into everything from advanced robotics to simply… fun,” said Schmidt.
Along with Erik Wortman, Schmidt co-teaches the STEM class at Skagway. Both are in their second of year of co-teaching the class.
A new focus this year for Skagway’s STEM class is tapping into technology owned by other Southeast schools and working together on high-tech projects.
“Wrangell has a laser-cutter, which we don’t have yet so Drew Larrabee, the shop teacher there, was saying, well, man if you need something laser-cut we could cut it for ya…it’s kinda exciting, the notion of creating a whole relationship between schools,” Schmidt said.
Skagway’s STEM curriculum aims to stay open to innovation and celebrate discovery among students.
“We have a lot of ideas but we really do want to leave space for creative energy and see where these young people want to take these skills and these tools,” said Schmidt.
The school district’s superintendent, Dr. Josh Coughran, says so far, everything has gotten off to a great start.
“I feel a real vibe of positivity this year, it’s just been great having the kids and the teachers back,” said Coghran.
The school year began with approximately 108 Kindergarten through 12th grade students, the most enrolled since the 2004/2005 school year. The school has 11 full-time teachers.
Coughran says the municipality financially supports the school well and he doesn’t have any serious budgetary concerns this year. The only cuts impacted the school lunch program.
“One of the things that concerned us this year was the Legislature’s refusal to re-appropriate the funds associated with the NAFS grant. That was the grant that allowed 100 percent reimbursement to school districts for any food that was caught or harvested in Alaska,” said Coughran.
The grant allowed the Skagway school to spend $20,000 last year on locally-caught halibut, salmon, crab and produce for school lunches. And the grant loss means the school no longer serves milk with lunch; water is now on the menu unless parents send milk with their student.
As for capital projects, Coughran says there will soon be new sidewalks out front. The school worked with the Skagway Traditional Council on the design.
Too many skinned knees and other minor injuries prompted a new surface for the school’s playground. Workers have begun tearing out the blacktop and replacing it with sod.
A new Multimedia and Industrial Design class is just one the new offerings in the high school, says Coughran.
He’s trying to resurrect the former glory of the school’s DDF program – that’s Drama, Debate and Forensics. Forensics in this case refers to the evidence used for a particular argument during debate. In the past, Skagway DDF students won some state championships. So this year the high schools students can earn an English credit by taking Speech and Debate, instead of it only being an extracurricular choice that conflicted with after-school sports.
“By virtue of moving that into the school day and have students work on pieces as far as oration or debates – anything like that – they have a chance to work on that during the school day and then compete with the DDF season starts while simulataneously being involved with cross-country or volleyball or basketball,” Coughran said.
A new face in the Skagway faculty lounge this year is Michaela Stidham. She wears four different hats at the school. She’s the preschool teacher; the College and Career Counselor; and the District Test Coordinator. She also coordinates the distance learning opportunities for the high school students.
“Yep, I’m bringing ‘em in and pushing ‘em out. That’s kinds the idea here. So I’m working with the very youngest students here at the school and then also the one that are ready for the next step in life,” said Stidham.
Stidham says she’s thrilled to be at Skagway School.
“I could not be happier to be serving this community in this way, so it’s really exciting for me,” said Stidham.
The 2015-16 school year runs from August 20 through May 17th of next year.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Michaela Stidham’s last name. It is Stidham, not Stidman.