FULL HOUSE – The main hall at Harrigan Centennial Hall is packed for the first day of the Southeast Conference Wednesday. At the conclusion of the conference, state Rep. Dan Ortiz, Ketchikan independent; Rep. Sara Hannan, Juneau Democrat; and Sen. Jesse Kiehl, Juneau Democrat, spoke about the need to protect school and ferry systems from further budget reductions.  (Sentinel Photo)

Keet Kids to Display Lessons in Leadership

By ABIGAIL BLISS
Sentinel Staff Writer
    At Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School, fourth and fifth graders spent the spring looking beyond their classroom walls and into their community.
    Local filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein collaborated with teachers Kristine Hole and Jennifer Tulloh to lead 41 kids through a multi-lesson “Artists in Schools” project focused on ways to define community, contribution, and leadership in Sitka – a line of inquiry linked to the students’ language and social studies classes. The students were tasked with responding, in both text and photography, to the question, “How can I show leadership within my community?”
    The fruits of their labor – photos and snippets from interviews – are on display at the William Stortz Gallery on the second floor of City Hall this month under the title “I Can Be a Community Leader.” Later this summer they will be displayed by Harry Race Pharmacy.
    Frankenstein said she had visited schools in other Alaskan communities through the “Artists in Schools” program, but this was her first time collaborating with the Sitka schools through the initiative. This “Artists in Schools” project is supported by a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts with additional funding from the Rasmuson Foundation
    “My work is very much about the art of connecting to the community, and getting out of the brick wall, or the walls of an institution: bringing the community in and getting the kids out,” Frankenstein said. “Documentaries are kind of about what noticing what you might otherwise pass by... It’s the art of rearranging the obvious.”
    The kids started the process of selecting their subjects by thinking of prominent historical figures who influenced their communities on a local, regional, and national scales, an exercise that sparked mentions of  “everyone from M.L.K. to Elizabeth Peratovich,” Frankenstein said.
    “We didn’t use the word ‘leadership’ very often,” she said. “Instead, we started the project by looking at people who had contributed to their community, to a cause... Leadership’s kind of a fraught word right now. Isn’t it cool if fourth- and fifth-grade kids can define what counts as contributing?”
    “We didn’t want to put the words in their mouth,” explained fourth-grade teacher Kristine Hole. “We wanted to say, ‘Let’s think about your community. Who are the people in your community?... What do they have in common?’”
    When her students turned their attention from historical figures to individuals within their own community, they identified a number of Sitkans they’d be interested in interviewing, all tied together by one shared quality: “These people, they all help in some kind of way,” Hole said.
    Tulloh, who teaches the fifth grade class that participated, said that once her students began brainstorming, they came up with a long list of possible subjects.
    “We started with the qualities of a leader, and then used our connections in identifying people,” she said. “I’m sure we could have definitely interviewed many, many, many more people if we had the time.”
    Hole said the students pointed to both the obvious candidates – public servants “at the forefront,” “people that they see” – and Sitkans who stood out to them in their daily lives: a custodian, a librarian, parents.
    Fourth-grader Natalie Hall said she was “looking for people who were helpful and kind” to add to the list.
    Maddie Holt, another Keet Gooshi Heen student, said she was interested in hearing stories about Sitka from community elders, and glad to see Tommy Joseph make her class’s final list.


Maite Lorente is one of the leaders featured in “Artists in Schools”. (Sentinel Photo)


    “I thought someone who was Tlingit, who was in Sitka for a really long time would be really cool because we could learn about the community,” she said.
    Each class came up with five candidates, and invited them to come to Keet for an interview. The final group consisted of Nancy Douglas, Dorothy Orbison, Ernesto Uy, Steve Lawrie, Julian Naylor, Lexi Fish, Ken Buxton, Maite Lorente, Dave Miller and Tommy Joseph.
    In the meantime, Frankenstein focused on equipping the kids with the skills they need to conduct and document the conversations. They practiced taking portraits of each other, tried out questions on their peers, and practiced active listening skills.
    Owen Holt, Maddie’s brother, said he had the most fun during the photography component of the project.   
    “I liked taking the pictures most of all,” he said. “We practiced how to get the right angle and, you know, how to be respectful listeners, not goof off when the person’s trying to speak.”
    Hole said her students gained a “plethora of skills” throughout the unit.
    “Everything from taking the time to stop and look at things, and kind of observe them more carefully and closely – an object, through photography, and the humans around us – to..angles, and centering, and those kinds of things,” she said. “Teaching them to ask a question and then teaching them to listen, not just with their body, buy with their heart.”
    The kids were divided into groups of four or five, each with an interview subject. That small-group structure required them to develop their teamwork skills, too; while one student was asking questions, the rest of the team would take notes, and they switched off roles throughout the interviews.
    After the interviews, the kids learned about teasing out the juiciest bits of their conversations, and presenting quotes and photos of their subjects on a poster.
    The posters were put on display at Keet, with “Gallery Walk Feedback Forms” accompanying them, said Jessica Christianson, a local arts, culture, and technology curriculum specialist who assisted with the project’s implementation. If students passing by saw something in the text or in a photo that resonated with them, or that impressed them, they could jot down comments for the next viewer or the artists themselves to see. Similar feedback forms will be available with the collection at City Hall.
    For Franksenstein, though, the project was still not over: she created a short film on the project for her documentary series, 14 Miles, titled “The Next Generation.” A preview of the episode is available at http://artchangeinc.org/14miles, where she plans to post the longer version next week.
    Frankenstein said one of most important skills the students learned through the process was how to interact with the community beyond their teachers, friends, and families. Expanding their view of Sitka, and the many professions, interests, and activities it has to offer, inspired some students to think deeply about how they might spend their time, both now and in the future.
    “It’s the art of interacting with the people around us,” she said. “They can have such an impact.”
    “I think growing up in a small community sometimes limits our perspective on the people that live here,” added Tulloh. “We see them in the grocery store, we see the fire chief outside the fire hall, we see the police chief... but we don’t really know what they do and how they spend their time outside of (work).”
    Owen said that his group’s interview with Maite Lorente, director of youth services at Sitka Public Library, helped him see another side of someone he knew only through their job.
    “I liked interviewing Maite, the local librarian in Sitka. I learned that she wasn’t just a local librarian,” he said, pointing to her volunteer work around the community as another important way Lorente spends her time. As the poster at City Hall explains, Lorente volunteers with the SAFV shelter, Raven Radio, and SEER School and “used to help people in Spain with literature.”
    Maddie said the process helped her develop a definition for leadership. For her, a leader is “a person who is responsible for his or her pack, or group of people.”
    “I think that I have a clear understanding,” Natalie added. “I would define a leader as someone who is really kind and helpful.”
    She said she was ready to add one more name to her class’s list of leaders: Ellen Frankenstein.
    “She is really smiley, and kind, and I think that she is also a leader because she does all of this stuff for the community,” Natalie said.
    By the unit’s end, Tulloh believes her students were thinking, “OK, we’ll have jobs and occupations, but it’s our time that’s valuable, and what we do for people.”
    And it’s never too early to start.
    “Kids can be leaders,” Natalie said. “A kid could be a leader by just being helpful to their classmates and kind to everybody.”
    And, beyond the classroom, could Keet Gooshi Heen students be leaders in their community?
    “Oh, yeah,” said Maddie. “Totally.”

You have no rights to post comments

Login Form

Facebook

calendar