Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula Hosts Two Fall Leadership Programs
Fall 2013 has been a busy time for Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula (PGKP) and its partner schools, staff, students, and communities. The PGKP Campus Family Support Team has been particularly active, planning two highly educational and engaging leadership opportunities for PGKP scholars.
The annual PGKP Middle School Leadership Institute took place in Anchorage from October 17-20. Twenty-six PGKP scholars traveled by plane and bus to participate in a very full schedule of events designed to teach them the introductory leadership and life skills necessary for successful next steps in their educational careers. Thirty-seven PGKP high school students traveled to Port Graham the very next weekend, October 25-27, to participate in the organization’s fall “Phlight Club” session – a youth development program.
PGKP Executive Director Mike Petersen stressed the value of offering engaging opportunities like these, sharing, “It’s important to provide this type of framework for students to grow and develop non-cognitive skills like grit, character, and leadership. With these programs, we’re not just telling students to do something; we’re giving them the language and tools to really do it.”
The Middle School Leadership Institute drew students from Nanwalek, Ninilchik, Port Graham, and Tyonek communities and gave them a glimpse of what a future holding a leadership position might be like. Students first learned basic leadership etiquette: small talk, shaking hands, eye contact, etc. These may seem like intuitive practices to some, but to PGKP students who live in small rural villages off the road system, they were brand new customs. They learned about Robert’s Rules of Order and “majority rule” decision-making processes, which are vastly different from the consensus-style leadership with which many PGKP students have grown up. Students then visited big corporations – including Chugachmiut and the Tyonek Native Corporation – and saw these leadership skills in action. Students sat in boardrooms and met with the CEOs of both companies. They applied their newly developed skills, and listened to CEOs share stories about their personal paths to leadership. Bart Garber, CEO of Tyonek Native Corporation, shared a story that students found particularly compelling. He, like most PGKP students, grew up in a small school town, and shared experiences and struggles that students identified with and that inspired them.
The next day students went on a private tour of the Alaska Native Heritage Cultural Center, a special treat as the center is typically closed for winter. Students learned how tribes have developed over time, which leadership practices have changed and which have been maintained, and how the leadership skills they learned as part of the Institute are still very relevant today. They coupled their leadership education with their cultural education by visiting with the Native Student Council at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA). They met with students similar to them: students from small native villages, students who share similar stories, even one Project GRAD alumni Scholar! Current UAA student Michael Kvasnikoff graduated from Port Graham, a PGKP school, and was happy to meet with current GRAD Scholars. Michael and fellow members of the Native Student Council talked about how to advocate for oneself, how to successfully transition from a rural setting to a college setting, and how to access the resources necessary to be resilient in college. This was PGKP Scholars’ favorite event of the program, and they were sad it had to end. The next morning scholars held a mini celebration before heading home.
Just five days later, a second group of PGKP students headed to Port Graham to participate in a youth development program. PGKP has partnered with Alaska Institute for Student Support (AKISS) to hold a twice-yearly “Phlight Club,” a youth leadership and empowerment experience. The Phlight Club program was created by internationally renowned youth advocate Derek Peterson. His program teaches students the necessity of having a full web of support, and gives them the tools they need to build their own web. Peterson believes in seven “phactors” of success, each one corresponding to a color of the rainbow. These factors are: The Rule of Five (maintaining five or more strong relationships with caring adults to “anchor” your web of support), Tangible Supports, Intangible Supports, Growing Your Balloon (developing your skills and talents to increase the chances that you will remain connected to all webs you are connected to), Scissor Cuts (breaking away from conditions that may hurt your web), Caring for the Carers (supporting your anchors when they may need you, so they do not drop out of your life), and Social Norms (respecting the climate and culture of your environment, that heavily influences your entire web).
Students learn the colors and “phactors,” practice using the language, and complete interactive activities – fun games, trust building tasks, team building projects – that model the importance of a particular “phactor.” After each activity, students are debriefed and talk about what they learned from the activity and how it relates to developing their web of supports.
Students who are able to participate in the Phlight Club feel honored – Port Graham is a fly-in-only village with a population of fewer than 200 people. Every PGKP Phlight Club is an exciting time for the Port Graham community, and they celebrate the arrival of PGKP scholars. Students are also honored because those who participate in the Phlight Club are expected to be liaisons for their fellow PGKP scholars who have not yet participated in the program. Upon returning to their schools, past Phlight Club participants hold mini sessions during monthly leadership workshops. They teach their peers about the language and skills that are taught during Phlight Club so that all students – even those who are not yet in high school – can become comfortable with the colors, language, and “phactors” and are able to start building their own web of support.
Both the Middle School Leadership Institute and the Phlight Club program will be repeated annually and semiannually, respectively. These are only two of the many programs PGKP offers its students throughout the year. Petersen is thrilled with the outcome of these two fall programs, and assures us that there is more to come in the spring: “It was a very busy and energetic October for PGKP staff and students. The students have some life changing experiences and tools to use and reflect on throughout the school year so that they can continue on a successful and positive path towards high school graduation and college. We look forward to our spring Career Institute and Phlight Club to provide more valuable opportunities for PGKP youth.”