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August 03
New Wellness Guidelines available for Alaska’s young children

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About 1 out of 3 Alaska children is overweight or obese. It’s important to prevent unhealthy weight gain at a young age. Along with families, child care and early education providers can play a big role in helping Alaska’s youngest children grow up at a healthy weight.

Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program has published a new guide for these providers to help children grow up healthy, active, and ready to learn. The Wellness Guidelines for Alaska’s Young Children: A Toolkit for Child Care Providers and Families are designed to help providers and families develop environments that support and encourage healthy eating, active play, and reduced screen and media time to help young children grow up at a healthy weight and develop healthy habits for life.
 
“It’s important for child care staff, families and other caregivers to be on the same page for young children’s health,” said Diane Peck, a registered dietitian and Early Care and Education Obesity Prevention Specialist for Alaska. “The Wellness Guidelines provide tips for parents to use at home, as well as ideas for child care newsletters and events that can help inform and engage parents. Families can join child care providers in planning programs and activities to prevent childhood obesity and encourage healthy living.”
 
The Wellness Guidelines provide quick and easy information on a variety of topics for obesity prevention in child care facilities. Each topic contains practical tips and ideas for healthy activities in child care facilities or day care homes. These ideas include ways to keep kids active when it’s too cold or wet outside, the healthiest beverages to serve to young children, and ways to support breastfeeding mothers. The Wellness Guidelines contain resources on healthy activities, policies, kids’ books, and more.
 
Alaska’s new Guidelines are based on the national Caring for Our Children Health and Safety Standards that can help prevent childhood obesity. These health and safety standards are the best practices, policies, and procedures for nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding, and screen and media time that should be followed in today’s child care settings. The Caring for Our Children standards meet or exceed the Alaska Licensing Statutes and Regulations (7 AAC 57) and the Municipality of Anchorage Code (Chapter 16.55).
 
Alaska’s new publication includes a section on traditional foods. Serving traditional foods recognizes the cultural and ethnic preferences of children and broadens all children’s experiences with food. Many foods that grow wild in Alaska are part of a traditional Alaska Native diet. Foods such as wild game meats, fish, seafood, plants, and berries are very nutritious and can be served in child care settings when proper food safety guidelines are followed. Use of these foods can address the cultural and ethnic preferences of many children, encourage community and family engagement, and reduce dependency on store-bought foods.
 
The Wellness Guidelines for Alaska’s Young Children were developed by the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program with input from the Alaska Alliance for Healthy Kids – Early Care and Education Work Group. This work group brings together people interested in addressing childhood obesity in the child care and early education settings. The group consists of Head Start and individual child care providers, as well as organizations that provide licensing, training, and support for child care centers, such as thread, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Alaska Child Care Program Office, and the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC). The group hosts a listserv to provide up-to-date, Alaska-specific information on childhood obesity prevention issues for child care providers. You can click here to join the listserv.
 
You can learn more about healthy eating and active play in child care facilities by clicking here. If you have a question about childhood obesity prevention, contact Peck at diane.peck@alaska.gov or (907) 269-8447.

 
July 24
Port Heiden farm brings food, pride, and positive changes to small Alaska community

Adrianne and Port Heiden.jpgThere are large farms that feed people all across the country, and then there are little farms that feed a community of families who all know each other.

That second kind of farm is what you’ll find in the Native Village of Port Heiden, a small community hundreds of miles southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula. This community-run farm raises animals and grows vegetables to help address scarce food sources in the wild and high food prices in the store, as well as the need to help a remote area build a more reliable storage of food in the case of emergencies, said Adrianne Christensen, the village’s director of business development.

Christensen calls the Aleut and Yup’ik community where she was born and raised a “meeting place in between villages.” It once had an Army base and thousands of residents, but now the population has fallen to just over 100 people. Though far from the rest of Alaska’s population, these residents remain close to each other and committed to their home, Christensen said. They’ve moved inland to try to escape the erosion along the coastline. They’ve relied on small airplanes to fly in everything they need and wait weeks to months for packages to arrive.

“So shipping fresh things is basically impossible,” Christensen said.

To feed their families, they rely on subsistence foods like berries and fish and one store with limited — and expensive — food options, she said. Christensen, a mother of two young boys, visited the store recently and the available produce consisted of about 10 pounds of potatoes and another 10 pounds of onions. There was nothing green or leafy on the shelves.

“A gallon of milk costs over $20,” she said.

Then there’s also the decline in traditional food options. The caribou population around Port Heiden had dwindled to the point that the residents were no longer allowed to hunt them.

“That’s what inspired us to start the reindeer farm,” Christensen said. Reindeer, she said, are domesticated caribou.

Christensen said Port Heiden residents spend entire summers hunting and gathering food for their winters, including meat from the reindeer, salmon, moose, ptarmigan, wild greens, and berries. With options becoming scarcer in the wild, residents came together and created the Meshik Farm, which stems from the original village name for Port Heiden. The village is located at the mouth of the Meshik River.

In 2015, the residents flew in 30 reindeer from the Nome area, Christensen said. Over time, they added other animals, including rabbits and chickens for their meat and eggs. They built a barn and an electric fence to keep the bears out. They used recycled items when they could, constructing a chicken house out of a reclaimed fuel drum.

“We lost a bunch of chickens to a fox this morning,” Christensen said in the middle of July, leaving their current chicken count at 15.

Like the caribou population, the rabbit population in the wild had been declining. Port Heiden residents now raise them on the farm for their meat. They also raise four pigs, one of which is pregnant. Pigs are not native to the area, but Port Heiden residents raise them because “we like bacon,” Christensen said. The residents also harvest vegetables and herbs, including squash, celery, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, kale, basil and dill.

Christensen said the Meshik Farm has two paid farmers, but everyone gets involved in some way. The farm is a community effort. The elders watch the animals and make sure they aren’t in danger. Adults build and clean pens, collect eggs, and care for the animals when they are sick. The children help feed and water, even slaughter, the animals. The tribe in Port Heiden sells the meat and produce to community members, and then the profit goes back into managing the farm, Christensen said. The farm website lists a dozen eggs at $12, a chicken for $25, and a rabbit for $20.

 “We had people here who didn’t realize an egg tastes good because they had never eaten a fresh egg,” Christensen said.

At this point, the farm isn’t raising enough money to make it profitable, but it has brought positive changes for the community’s lifestyle. Christensen said the farming program has helped residents stop abusing drugs and kept them sober. It has helped children stay active, chasing reindeer and catching chickens. It’s inspired families to start their own personal gardens and raise animals.

“The farm really brings people together, especially when animals arrive,” Christensen said. “People are really proud of our community and what we’re doing.”

 

The photograph is of Adrianne Christensen, Port Heiden's director of business development, and her son. The image is courtesy of Christensen.

July 10
Introduce your child to new fruits, veggies and other foods at the local farmers market

AK Grown.JPGWant your children to expand their tastes for vegetables beyond peas, carrots, and broccoli? A trip to a local farmers market can help. And if the idea of looking at stacks of potatoes and zucchini doesn’t grab your child’s attention, maybe they would be more interested in duck eggs, raw honey still in the comb, or even yak meat.

Yes, that’s right. There is a yak farm in Willow, and Duane Clark sells the meat at his booth at the Thankful Thursdays market at the Mall at Sears in Anchorage (indoors, Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., all year); Town Square Park in Downtown Anchorage (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., summer); and the Peters Creek Farmers Market (American Legion Post 33, Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., June-December).

Clark said it’s fun to show a customer (especially a child) a photo of a yak and explain how it is different from a cow, and what the meat is like.

“Not everyone is going to get a chance to see a yak in real life,” Clark said. “When I explain to them that yak meat is like really good beef, a lot of times they want to try it.”

Even with the more typical produce, like cucumbers or tomatoes, meeting the people who grew and harvested the vegetable can make it much more appealing to a child.

“If they can see the produce connected to someone who enjoys being there, with a happy face, and can tell the story of when (the produce) was planted, and how it grew, that can make a difference,” Clark said. “Kids can see some of the same things in any grocery store, but there, all the guy did was take them out of the box.”

Carla McConnell is the organizational volunteer for the Muldoon Farmers Market in East Anchorage (Begich Middle School, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., late June to late September). She agreed that shopping in a farmers market is much more exciting for a child.

“There are music and activities, and it’s much more of an event than a grocery store,” McConnell said. “They can get interaction with the farmers themselves in most cases, and can ask them: ‘What is it? What does it taste like? How does it grow?’”

McConnell encourages families to ask for samples to help encourage kids to try new or different options.

“The taste of fresh, locally grown produce is completely different, a totally different taste on the palate,” she said.

Robbi Mixon is the director of the Homer Farmers Market (Ocean Drive, Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., late May to late September). Mixon said her market often hosts a chef to cook simple recipes in front of the market’s attendees.

“They can see that anyone can make (the featured recipes) with relative ease, and kids can help,” she said. “We also try to have kid helpers working with the chefs, so other kids can see how they can help at home.”

Getting a chance to touch and feel fruits and veggies, and being involved in the preparation process — such as washing, trimming, and chopping — can get a child interested in tasting them, said Lindsay Meyers from Meyers Farm in Bethel (Tundra Ridge, Wednesdays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.).

“If you make it as much of a kinesthetic experience as possible, it makes kids want to put the fruits or veggies in their mouths,” Meyers said.

Pea pods are a great starting place.

“It’s fun to open them and taste what’s inside,” said Meyers.

To find farmers markets near you, visit http://buyalaskagrown.com/buy/farmermarkets.
June 27
Free, pick-your-own-food gardens sprout in the center of Anchorage

IMG_6611.JPGA downtown Anchorage church is converting its front lawn into a huge vegetable and herb garden.

A few blocks away at a municipal park, residents and city employees have planted clusters of fruit trees and berry bushes.

These are just two examples of a new trend in urban gardens: edible landscaping. The idea is to create an attractive public space that also provides free food to the community.

“We have planted apple trees, raspberry and currant bushes, blueberries, strawberries, and rhubarb,” said Catherine Kemp, an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for the Municipality of Anchorage.

The Fairview Community Council and the Anchorage Community Land Trust received funding from the Cities of Service, as well as donated fruit trees from the State of Alaska Division of Forestry, to create this edible landscaping at Fairview Park.

“We will have signs identifying the plants, explaining how they are traditionally used, and encouraging people to pick them,” said Kemp.

Kemp said food security is a priority for Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, and he hopes many in the area will benefit from the edible additions. 

“Both local residents and any homeless people in the area will be encouraged to pick and eat the fruit growing here,” said Kemp.

Kemp also has plans to use the garden to teach the children at Fairview Elementary School about food issues.

“I am going to do some education sessions about the importance of growing our own food and how the food system works,” she said.

Just a few blocks away, volunteers from Central Lutheran Church are planting a large vegetable and herb garden in front of their building. 

“We hope to have raised vegetable garden beds built this summer,” said Barbara Baker, a church member who is working on the garden project.

When the garden is ready for harvest, Baker said its bounty will be open to church members, residents of a nearby transitional housing shelter, and children attending the closest Camp Fire Alaska Before and After School Program.

Photograph courtesy of Laura Vachula with the Anchorage Park Foundation

June 07
Healthy Futures Challenge kicks off its summer edition

HealthyFutures_SummerActivityLog.pngFor the second year in a row, the Healthy Futures Challenge will continue in the summer.

Many parents across Alaska know about the free physical activity challenge that is offered twice during each school year — once in the fall and again in the spring. The spring challenge ended in more than 160 elementary schools in April, but the Summer Healthy Futures Challenge will kick off again in June to help Alaska kids get closer to 60 minutes of daily physical activity during the summer.

“The Summer Challenge encourages kids to continue building the habit of daily physical activity through the summer months, keeping them engaged in healthy activities,” said Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures coordinator.
 
Healthy Futures is partnering with Camp Fire Alaska and Denali Family Services to run the summer physical activity challenge in several Anchorage locations and almost 30 rural communities that participate in Denali Family Services camps, Camp Fire’s Rural Camp program, and Camp Fire’s school-age  program in Anchorage.
 
The school-year Healthy Futures Challenge and the Summer Challenge run in slightly different ways. To successfully complete the school-year challenge, children in grades K-6 fill out a physical activity log for an entire month. To complete the Summer Challenge, children need to fill out an activity log for a two-week period of time. During those two weeks, participating children need to be active for 60 minutes a day for at least 10 days, Loran said.
 
There will be four, two-week Summer Challenge periods in June and July, Loran said. Children who complete the Summer Challenge will receive a prize. The prize for a first completed log is a Healthy Futures yo-yo that lights up when it’s used.
 
To learn more about the Summer Healthy Futures Challenge, contact Healthy Futures at alyse@healthyfuturesak.org.
May 23
Big news for family who promotes physical activity in Bethel

_MG_3076.jpgPlay Every Day has been broadcasting a short TV message about Carolyn and Shane Iverson’s family in Bethel, and how they have fun making physical activity a part of their daily life.

Carolyn Iverson says the local children were excited to see the message about their community along the Kuskokwim River, and the importance of being active every day.

“I always ask them: Did it make you want to play?” she says. “And they all say, ‘Yes!’”

Last year, Play Every Day filmed this public service announcement (PSA) with the Iverson family. This year, the campaign is broadcasting the PSA again, but the Iverson family has some big news. The family of five is now a family of six. Their little boy named Tyson was born on Feb. 11.

The PSA about the Iversons was created in partnership between the Department of Health and Social Services and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Both organizations are working together again this spring and summer to share the physical activity message with Alaska families throughout the state.

The PSA can only share 30 seconds of the Iverson family’s story. Here are a few more details to see how Carolyn and Shane — and many other adults in Bethel — are helping children get out and play every day.
Carolyn is Yup’ik, grew up in Akiak until age 5, and has lived in Bethel for years. That’s where she met her husband, Shane. They have three boys and a girl — all under the age of 8. Carolyn is a social worker with the Lower Kuskokwim School District and Shane is the general manager for KYUK.

The Iversons are busy, but they work hard to make sure their whole family is active every day. They limit TV time and don’t have video games. They make physical activity a daily priority by finding ways to weave activity into their family’s day.
 
“Sometimes people think physical activity needs to be separate from their daily lives,” Carolyn says. “When you can incorporate it into your daily lifestyle, that’s when it will be easiest to maintain.”
 
Activity is a part of the kids’ school day. The older boys do Native dance at the Yup’ik Immersion School. After school, the Iverson children play basketball, wrestle, do judo, or dance. When school’s out for the summer, they play soccer, pick berries or take trips to the sand pits to run around and play. They often take a boat to their fish camp so they can fish together on the river.
 
The Iverson family has found a way to be active and help the community be active at the same time. In the summer, Shane coaches soccer while his children play the game. During the school year, Carolyn coaches girls basketball and Shane assists. Carolyn says one of Bethel’s strengths is its sense of community.
 
“There a lot of people — adults — who put time and energy into giving kids multiple different kinds of opportunities throughout the year,” she says.
 
Carolyn says she gives her time to help young kids because she wants them to think about the importance of being physically active. She wants to inspire them to maintain that level of activity throughout adulthood. She also wants to help them feel better about who they are, and start thinking about their goals for the future.
 
“We are trying to raise our kids to choose to be active and engage in things that make them feel good,” Carolyn says.
 
Carolyn says she maintained her own active lifestyle while pregnant with Tyson. She helped her sister coach cross country running during the early part of her pregnancy and coached the young girls basketball team until she had her baby. 
 
This is how the Iversons are helping children in their community be physically active. What can you do in yours?
May 08
Play Every Day message shows how sugar adds up during the day

​Do you know how children get most of their added sugar each day?Group-PPT.jpg

They drink it.

Sugary drinks are the No.1 source of added sugar in our daily diets. And most of these drinks come loaded with calories with little — if any — nutritional value.

These sugary drinks are more than just soda. Some of the more popular sweetened drinks in Alaska cupboards include the powdered mixes and fruit-flavored beverages. Alaska parents are often surprised to hear that sports drinks and vitamin drinks — drinks marketed to appear like they are healthier options — are really just loaded with sugar. There can be eight teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce vitamin drink, and nine teaspoons of sugar in a similar-sized sports drink.

Play Every Day is taking its message to television, websites, and the walls of schools and health clinics across Alaska to show how these sugary drinks add up to serious health problems for children and adults. Its public service announcement opens with this line: “It’s just one soda with dinner. What’s the harm?”

Sugary drinks are linked with many harms that can start in childhood and lead to a lifetime of serious health risks. Sugary drinks can lead to unhealthy weight gain. One out of three Alaska children is overweight or obese. They can lead to type 2 diabetes — a serious health condition that is being increasingly diagnosed among children even though it used to be considered a disease of adults only. Sugary drinks can lead to cavities, and can increase the risk of heart disease.

Play Every Day’s 30-second video message flashes back to the sugary drinks a child consumes at breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. At the same time, a split screen shows the sugar adding up in a glass. By the end, the child consumes 38 teaspoons of sugar — almost a cup — just from sugary drinks that day. The take-home message is to skip all those sugary drinks and choose water or low-fat milk for the best health.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans has set limits on the amount of added sugar to consume each day for the best health. The guidelines recommend limiting our added sugars to less than 10 percent of the calories we eat and drink each day. Added sugars are sugars, syrups and other sweeteners that are added to foods or drinks when they are processed or prepared. Sugary drinks — like sodas and sports drinks — are loaded with added sugars. You can read more to learn how you can help your family meet these recommended limits for daily added sugar.

May 01
American Ninja Warrior Nick Hanson visits Mat-Su schools to challenge kids to obstacle course

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Nick Hanson, the American Ninja Warrior from Unalakleet, has designed an obstacle course and will be challenging students to try it at eight Mat-Su Borough schools on May 2- 4, 2017. One obstacle he will be demonstrating is a 14 1/2-foot curved wall — the same height wall that he climbs during the national TV American Ninja Warrior competition that features creative obstacles.

Hanson is visiting local schools to show young children that daily physical activity is healthy and fun. Hanson also will focus on other choices he makes to stay healthy, including not drinking soda, smoking tobacco or abusing drugs.

The last soda Hanson drank was in 2003, when he was a high school athlete. He used to drink multiple cans of soda a day, but when he gave it up, he started to feel better.
 
“I actually started running faster,” he said. “I started performing better.”
 
For the past two years, Hanson has been a contestant on American Ninja Warrior and competes as the “Eskimo Ninja.” Hanson, a world record holder in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, has been invited back to compete and will be on the show airing June 12, 2017. When he’s home, Hanson practices every day on the Ninja course he built using driftwood on the beach of Unalakleet.
 
At his first Mat-Su school visit May 2, Hanson will be joined by the Play Every Day campaign. Last year, Play Every Day partnered with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to film a 30-second public service announcement that shows Hanson helping Unalakleet children and families get physically active in many different ways. He has coached children in several sports, including volleyball and Native Youth Olympics. He organizes a free running club for people of all ages in the summer. And when the kids play hide-and-go-seek and other games, Hanson joins in the fun. Play Every Day and ANTHC are broadcasting Hanson’s physical activity message to Alaska families on TV and online this spring and summer. 
 
Play Every Day will join Hanson Tuesday morning, May 2, 2017, at Meadow Lakes Elementary School, 1741 N. Pittman Road in Wasilla. From 10 to 10:30 a.m., Play Every Day staff and Hanson will talk during a school assembly about the importance of getting 60 minutes of daily physical activity and reducing your consumption of sugary drinks for the best health. Play Every Day’s staff will give an interactive demonstration that shows the surprising amount of sugar hiding in sugary drinks — such as powdered drinks, sports drinks and soda — and how that sugar adds up when you choose a sugary drink at breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner. Hanson will demonstrate several obstacles from the American Ninja Warrior course. From 10:30 to 11 a.m., Hanson will help Meadow Lakes students try some obstacles.
April 17
School store makeover:  Mat-Su schools serve Smart Snacks

Snack Shack 2.PNGLooking to pick up a skinny caramel latte at the Upbeat Cafe at Colony High School? It’s going to come with calorie-free flavoring.

Want to grab a quick slice of pizza from the Snack Shack run by the high school’s activities program?  Now it’s got a tasty whole wheat crust. You might also notice that the portion size is a bit smaller — 10 slices per pie this year compared to the 8 slices they sold before. 

These menu changes are a part of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District implementation of the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. These national standards are issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Starting in the 2014-15 school year, the Smart Snacks nutrition standards require that “competitive foods” — snacks and beverages sold in vending machines, school stores, snack carts, á la carte lines and fundraising efforts during the school day — are nutritious and promote health.

While serving healthy foods to students during the school day makes sense, it can be challenging to put these standards into action. Many of these stores are run by volunteer clubs and organizations, rather than a school nutrition specialist. Detailed nutrition standards can look overwhelming to volunteers if they don’t get the necessary support.

Rather than trying to navigate the new standards, some districts chose to unplug vending machines and shutter school stores during the school day, only opening for evening sporting events (foods sold more than a half an hour after the school day ends are not required to meet the Smart Snacks nutrition standards). Unfortunately, the clubs and groups running the stores lose that source of revenue when there are many healthy choices they could be selling.

The Mat-Su Borough School District has found a way to meet those standards, continue offering foods and drinks during the school day, and bring in revenue. Rachel Kroon, member of the district’s wellness team, worked with school stores, cafés and coffee shops throughout the district to meet nutrition standards.
 
“We made individual school site visits to check their current menus and let them sample some Smart Snack-compliant items,” she said. "We delivered a folder with all the Smart Snack Guidelines and gave them a list of snack items they could buy from local stores and Amazon. Then we followed up with site-specific recommendations to the clubs and groups running the stores.”
 

Thinking about making a change at your school?  Here are some tips for a Smart Snacks makeover:

• Share the Guide to Smart Snacks in Schools with anyone who manages a school store or snack bar, coordinates food-based fundraisers during the school day, or sells food on campus outside of the School Breakfast and Lunch Program.
• Check current snacks and beverage inventories using the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Product Calculator. Use the Beverage Inventory and Food Inventory worksheets to help you document and stay organized.
• Browse for compliant products using the Smart Food Planner or work with your school food service to order Smart Snacks-compliant foods through their vendors.
• Consider working with your school food service program to prepare Smart Snacks-compliant foods like muffins, pizzas, sandwiches, or salads for sale in a school store.
• Involve students in taste-testing new options.
• Use Smarter Lunchroom strategies, such as placing healthier items at the front of the counter; using signs withfun, descriptive names to make them visible and attractive; and pricing healthier items at a lower cost than less healthy items.
• Make sure the Smart Snacks standards are included in your district’s required school wellness policy.

One of the best ways to help young Alaskans grow up at a healthy weight is to pass and implement a strong school wellness policy. Evidence of the importance of a strong school wellness policy (also known as a student nutrition and physical activity policy) is so clear that the federal government requires that every school district receiving funds for school breakfast or lunch have a policy. Alaska school surveys indicate a clear relationship between implementing Smart Snacks nutrition standards and the declining availability of candy and salty snacks in Alaska schools.
 
Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program, in concert with the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development Child Nutrition Program, has developed a Gold Standard School Wellness policy that meets Smart Snacks and all other state and federal requirements.
 
For more information about Smart Snacks in School or school wellness policies, contact Lauren Kelsey, Obesity Prevention School Partnership Coordinator, at lauren.kelsey@alaska.gov.
 
Photograph courtesy of the Mat-Su Borough School District

 
April 10
Service High School Partners Club honored for including all students in school activities, events and sports

Erica and Rachel Service High Partners Club, Erica on left.jpegEach year, the Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education awards its Inclusive Practice Award to one or more educators who work to ensure students experiencing disabilities have the opportunity to be included in school activities. Nominations for the award are made by parents, students and educators to recognize the outstanding efforts of those around the state who provide positive learning environments for students experiencing disabilities and their peers.

The 2017 winner of the Inclusive Practice Award is the Service High School Partners Club in Anchorage. The Service High School Partners Club, created in 2001, is made up of 30 students with intellectual disabilities, eight staff members, 72 peer teachers, and 100 partners who work together on educational goals, life skills activities, and community inclusion. Led by life skills and special education teacher Adam Ahonen, the Partners Club works to develop activities that both promote awareness and inclusion of all students.

The Partners Club has a coffee shop and a Special Olympics group, and also works with multiple sports teams. Observers and participants say the Partners Club has encouraged a school culture at Service High where students with disabilities are actively included in school assemblies, drama productions, choir, prom and dances, sporting events, and after school activities.

Ahonen says the club also participates in community events, such as entering the Fur Rondy snow sculpting competition. This spring, he is excited about the chance for Partners Club members to participate in track and field.

“Alaska is the first state to have a unified sporting event, involving both special education and regular curriculum students, that is recognized and sanctioned by the state’s school activities organization,” he said. “That’s exciting. The most important part of this for me is seeing that Partners Club is a catalyst for social inclusion and enhancing the overall community in our schools.”

Rachel Robinson, a Partners Club member with Down syndrome, said that she loves the activities she gets to take part in, including floor hockey, bowling, skiing, basketball and cheerleading.

“I was the captain for cheerleading for hockey,” she said.

Service High School also offers a related elective class in which students in the general education population can sign up to act as peer teachers for students experiencing disabilities in the life skills program.

Erica Christopherson is one of those peer teachers. She accompanies Rachel and her classmates experiencing disabilities while they carry out basic jobs around school — washing dishes in the cafeteria or shredding papers in the office — and guides them while they complete their daily journal entries.

Although Christopherson works with the Partners Club for school credit, she also spends a lot of her own time there, simply because she enjoys it.

“Mr. A’s room is always open and welcoming,” she said. “I’m in here almost every day at lunch, just hanging out with the students and the other peer teachers. It’s a lot of fun.”

In 2015, Play Every Day created a video public service announcement focused on the importance of daily physical activity for children of all abilities. Congratulations to the Partners Club and other nominees for the 2017 Inclusive Practice Award for putting that goal into action.

Below is the complete list of nominees for the Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education 2017 Inclusive Practice Award. Congratulations to all nominees for their important work educating and supporting Alaska children of all abilities.

• Monique Christiansen: Intensive Needs Program, Palmer Junior Middle School, Palmer
• Deb Evensen: FASD educator and consultant, Homer
• Gail Greenhalagh: Alaska Transition Outcomes Project (ATOP) Coordinator,   SERRC, Juneau
• Jennifer Hilder and Pam Penrose: Teachers and mentors, Craig Elementary and Craig Middle School, Craig
• Hope School Team: Patricia Truesdell, Sandra Barron, Diane Olthuis, Eugene, Moseley, and Sara Fortin, Hope
• Pauline Johnson: Paraprofessional, Angoon Elementary, Angoon
• Lisa Kelzenberg: Adaptive Physical Education Teacher, Eagle River High School, Eagle River
• Robyn Meyer: Pre-school teacher, Northwood ABC Elementary, Anchorage
• Nikolaevsk School Instructional Team: Robanne Stading, Jared Copeland, Kelli Hickman, Steve Klaich, Heather Pancratz, Krista Parrett, Michael Sellers, and Jeri Trail, Nikolaevsk
• Paul Banks Elementary Special Education Department: Ray Archuleta, Stephanie Fain, Melissa Gersdorf, Mindy Hunter, Monica Glenn, Donna Sander, Amy Sundheim, Melissa Arno, Vicki Berney, Daniel Bunker, Bobby Copeland-McKinney, Luke Eckert, Anna Germundson, Noreen O’Brien-Dugan, Jennifer Poss, Katy Rice, and Kristi Wickstrom, Homer
• Katherine Pittman: Special Education teacher, Glacier Valley Elementary, Juneau
• Amanda Rugg: Structured Learning Classroom teacher, Bowman Elementary, Anchorage
• Sally Stockhausen: Teacher and team leader, Kayhi High School, Ketchikan
• Tri-Valley School Team: JoHanna Sesito, Bonny Hamm and Angelica Hayes, Ivana Haverlikova, Natile Brandt, Erinn Martin, Jennifer Hancock, Sarah Walker, Jody Stamps and Danielle Talerico, Healy
• Christine Zelinsky: Department Chair and Brandy Jones, Steven Odom, Tracie Ashman, and Anne Paley, Dimond High School, Anchorage

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