Sitka’s Outer Coast Starts Full-Year Program

Category: Local News
Created on Wednesday, 02 September 2020 14:59

Sentinel Staff Writer

Outer Coast is more than ready to launch its first full-year, postsecondary education program.

“Planning for this moment is all I’ve been doing since November,” said Johnny Elliott, Outer Coast’s program coordinator.

Monday will mark the first week of classes for 15 college-age students from all around the United States. 

The year-long program will provide four classes, taught individually over four seven-week terms. Students are currently residing on the Sheldon Jackson campus, where they will attend classes starting next week.

It’s an upgrade from Outer Coast’s summer seminar, a five-week intensive session that has run each summer since 2018. The summer seminar is open to high school-aged students, and has been a stepping stone in the establishment of the full-year program.

The yearlong program will then lead into a two-year college program, and is launching during the final stages of Outer Coast’s acreditation process. 

All Outer Coast programs focus on three pillars: self-governance, service, and academics. 

Executive Director Bryden Sweeney-Taylor said that the pillars will operate differently in the year-long program than they have in the summer seminars. 

He said differences between the summer seminar and the full-year program will be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With our emphasis on student self-governance, thinking about what that looks like in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is really interesting,” he told the Sentinel. “It means that students ultimately have ownership of their community that is much more immediate. That sort of responsibility is not to be taken lightly.”

Outer Coast students socialize while maintaining a six-foot space between themselves outside Sweetland Hall on the SJ campus Monday. This is the first time the program, which has been offered as a summer seminar, has offered a fall academic course. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Where other college campuses have had a hard time keeping students from engaging with the broader community – and with each other – Sweeney-Taylor says he thinks Outer Coast’s self-governance structure will prevent that.

“What we see on college campuses is likely that students feel there are all these policies and rules that are coming down on them from on high, and they’re like, ‘ugh, no, I’m going to not pay attention to these things,’” he explained. “In the context of Outer Coast, students will ultimately be responsible – within some parameters – (for) what our COVID-19 guidelines are and how they want to act as a student body.”

Elliott said he expects to see differences stemming from reasons other than pandemic response.

“In our last couple summer seminars, we’ve noticed that near the end students really build a tool kit for interacting with what self-governance means,” he said.

Elliott explained that the year-long program will give students time to get more acquainted with governing themselves. He said this extends to event planning, the students’ academic and service schedule, and administrative actions.

Differences in the length of the program will also affect the service pillar.

“There’s only so much you can do in the five weeks over the summer,” Sweeney-Taylor said. “We’ve focused so much of the summer seminar – when it’s been in person – on (group) project-based work.”

In terms of service, he said, the year-long program will make room for individual relationships with community organizations. He hopes this allows students and organizations to create a more immediate impact.

Sweeney-Taylor said he’s been in touch with the Sitka Sound Science Center, Sitka Fine Arts Camp, KCAW, SAFV, Sitka Trail Works, and SAIL for service opportunities.

“We envision ... individual students or pairs of students having placement at different organizations and having a longer duration of their work in that way,” he said.

This will be the students’ primary connection to the community, Elliott said. He sees service – such as  self-governance and academics – as a learning experience.

“There’s so much to learn here in Sitka from people outside of the classroom,” he said. “I’m excited to see how the folks here in Sitka are going to be working with students.”