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JUN
19
2017

IN THE FIELD
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Guest blog: How one rural town is investing in Alaska's future workforce

By Guest Blogger

By Thomas Azzarella, director of the Alaska Afterschool Network. This blog was originally published on the Alaska Afterschool Blog on June 6.

Photo courtesy of Eric Filradi

Nearly two-thirds of Alaska’s cities, towns, and villages are accessible only by plane or boat, which makes having a strong aviation workforce critical to having a strong state economy. Qualified and experienced employees in the aviation industry are in high demand throughout the state, especially in rural communities.

The 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) in Nenana is addressing this demand by preparing youth living in rural Alaska for this crucial industry.

Nenana is a small rural town of approximately 400 residents. Nenana City School District is comprised of one K-12 grade school that serves nearly 200 students. Approximately 100 of these students are enrolled in the school’s boarding facility, the Student Living Center, for grades 9-12. These students come from villages and towns all over the state, many of which attend school in Nenana because of the limited educational offerings in their home village. 

Nenana’s Community Learning Centers program expands the school’s educational offerings after school by providing tutoring, career-tech programs, and opportunities for building self-confidence and leadership skills. Among these offerings is the school’s Aviation Mechanics program, which is preparing high school students for high-paying jobs in Alaska’s aviation industry.

On Friday evenings, students in the Aviation Mechanics program travel to Fairbanks, approximately one hour away from Nenana, to attend training at Fairbanks Aviation Services. Here the students learn various aircraft mechanics skills, such as engine repairs, aircraft construction, safety check inspections, and how to paint an aircraft.

Beth Norman, Nenana’s 21st CCLC Coordinator stated, “This program is preparing high school students for real jobs that are needed in our state. Jobs in the aviation industry pay well and are available in almost every village in Alaska.”

Throughout their time in the program, students log their hours of aviation mechanics, which can be used to help them when applying for apprenticeship programs. The Aviation Mechanics program not only teaches real-world, marketable skills that are in high demand in Alaska, but also soft skills that are valuable in the professional world, such as responsibility, punctuality, and communication.

“By having a Community Learning Centers grant we have been able to provide students with afterschool tutoring that enabled many students to receive one-on-one help, catch up on late work, improve grades and performance, and improve student attendance,” says Sherri Carattini, Principal of Nenana City Public School. “Students involved in the afterschool programs are happier, healthier, and much more enthusiastic about school in general. Not only are they getting academic help, they are also engaging in career opportunities that we would not be able to provide out of our regular general school fund.”

Nenana’s Community Learning Centers program is not just for high school students, but for the entire K-12 school.

“From kindergarteners to seniors in high school, there are many opportunities for the students to explore new and exciting programs offered because of the grant,” says Cherrie Forness, a parent, community member, and school board member. “Drugs and alcohol abuse are a big factor in our little town, so it is great that the school is able to offer an afterschool program to the students to help keep them off the streets that often get them in trouble, and encourages them to do their best and to see that they can achieve whatever they set out to achieve.”

Without federal funding for Nenana’s 21st Century Community Learning Center, programs like Aviation Mechanics wouldn’t exist, reducing the number of educational opportunities for Nenana’s students.

“The Community Learning Centers program is invaluable in providing our students with knowledge, skills, and hope for the future,” says Carattini.