Why You Should Care About Attendance

As part of a business or organization, club or community group, the thought that you should care about attendance probably doesn't cross your mind. But in reality, you should care a lot about attendance. Why?  

1) Students who have good attendance are creating good habits that will make good work habits. You want your employees and members to show up on time and ready to work, learn and participate. There is no better time than while in school to learn that habit. 

2) High attendance means better grades, better grades mean a higher chance of graduating high school. The more students we have graduating high school, the more adults we have ready for the work force, earning more money to stimulate the economy, and committing less crime. 

3) Successful kids are good for our community. Attendance is the foundation of success in school, and the more kids we have achieving their full potential, the more our whole community will benefit. 

How can you affect attendance in Anchorage? Become an Attendance Champion! As an Attendance Champion you will help us spread the word about the importance of attendance, while showing your employees, customers and the community that you care about education. We provide the materials while you commit to a month of being an Attendance Champion. CLICK HERE to learn more, or contact Kelsey at kpreecs@ak.org

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It's free, it's easy and it's fun! 

We’ve heard it a million times; “I’m not a math person.” “I’m just not good at math.” And we accept it because it’s something we’ve heard a million times. But if I were to say “I’m just not good at reading,” or “I never really figured out how to read after 7th grade,” you would be horrified. There is no reason that we shouldn’t have the same standards for students learning math. Math is used in our ever day lives and can be a huge part of a career.

Showing students how you use math can encourage them to keep working at it, even if it can be hard. You can make a video talking about how you use math, and get students excited about it. Get your friends and coworkers to make one, and show support for the students in your community.  


Youth Task Force Has Some Ideas

We are students from East, West, and Bartlett High Schools and we wanted to express some thoughts about recent news stories we’ve read about education.

We are members of the 90% by 2020 Anchorage Graduation Youth Task Force, (working toward a 90% graduation rate by the year 2020) and work in partnership with United Way and Anchorage Youth Development Coalition. We joined the task force because we wanted to make a difference in our schools. Our focus over the past year has been school attendance. We have done research and presented to families, students, and teachers about not only the importance of attendance, but also some of the difficulties some have in making it to school. We know the importance of working together to make a difference in education, so when we saw the article “Alaska’s two top education officials, Johnsen and Johnson, unite with goal to strengthen education,” we got pretty excited. We want to go to college and succeed, and education systems working together will help make that possible.

One thing we were excited about was the discussion around excellent educators and making it easier for Alaskan students to become local teachers. When we talked about it, we realized that the traits we value most in our educators are teachers who are caring and attentive, as well as inspirational. When teachers go out of their way to make us feel welcomed and supported, we’re much more willing to work hard. Good teachers are important to our success, so the article “Anchorage School District suggests cutting 99 full-time teaching positions to close $15M budget gap” was discouraging for us, and it may have been for you, too. We hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does, what can we do?

One of the other articles we read discussed the amount of students taking remedial classes when they get to the University of Alaska: “University report finds too-high rates of Alaskans taking remedial classes.” Many of our peers speak English as a second or third language, so they may not have the opportunity to take high-level classes to prepare them for college. We’ve found that having outside help, whether tutoring from teachers or classmates or other after-school activities, can really help. Another option is lowering the cost of remedial classes at the college level (we got that idea from some adults but think it’s a good one!) or helping us learn the skills we need before we graduate high school.

It struck us that school is not the only place we need supportive adults. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, “teens who have positive connections with supportive adults are less likely to engage in drug and heavy alcohol use; be delinquent or involved in crime; or be homeless later in life than adolescents without those connections.” We want to make a callout to the community to reach out to the many youth-serving organizations in Anchorage and volunteer. Having more than one supportive adult can literally change a young person’s life. Inspire us to be better and hold us accountable for our choices! A few awesome organizations you can volunteer with are Covenant House, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and United Way of Anchorage.

We’d also like to challenge our community and state leaders to involve us in their conversations. Just because we’re young doesn’t mean we don’t have ideas. Let's put it this way: Would you like a group of people who are not directly impacted by their decisions to decide how your office or home is run? We think it would be a great idea to have some youth working with your committees to improve educational outcomes

These are just some ideas that we’ve had. We’re still working on projects to increase awareness and help raise graduation rates in our city. We really appreciate that the community cares about these issues! If you’re interested in talking with us, email us at info@90by2020.com

The Best for Your Kids

As parents, we want to do everything possible to make sure our children are happy, healthy and prepared for life. It seems like every day we learn about something else that can affect our children for the better or worse. It’s hard to keep up with. But one fact is unwavering, and has been proven over and over again:

Spending time with your kids affects them positively in every aspect of their life. 

When kids have adults in their lives that spend regular time with them, they are less likely to participate in risky behavior, have higher school GPAs, are more confident and social, and have better mental health. 

It’s easy to get swept up in the chaos that is everyday life, running from work to sports practice, music lessons or art class especially in this season where it seems like there are too many commitments to count. Giving our kids every experience and leg up in life is every parent’s dream. And while these things are also important to creating a well-rounded human, the time spent with kids is equally important. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to smother your kid constantly with your presence, but making a conscious effort to have dinner as a family, doing a game night, asking about homework and friends, walking the family dog together, all these simple things allow kids to feel valued and supported. 

There is no better time than now to start! Kids from preschool to high school seniors benefit from spending time with the adults in their life. 


Youth Task Force

By Marcia LaSalle, TRiO


We’ve all met young people, and I know that many of us have strong opinions about them. Teenagers, millennials, youths. Call them what you will, but also give them their own voice. 

I’m going to challenge you for a moment, are you ready? Put your pen down, forget about the big meeting you have coming up for a second, just imagine with me. You’re sixteen again (with all the horrendous hormones and hairstyles to boot), you’re waking up at what seems to be the crack of dawn to go to school. You get on the bus (or maybe you’re one of the lucky kids who has their own car), and go to school. How many genius ideas did you have in the span of those hours? Did you come up with the solution to world hunger in gym class or cure cancer in chemistry? Probably not, but I’m positive you had thousands of thoughts that were never vocalized.

Now the reason I asked you go down memory lane was to bring up a point. How many times in your young adulthood did you have an idea that was ignored by adults? How many times did you feel like “adults were being unfair” and not giving you the time of day? Now are you starting to see where I’m going?

I’m 23, young (maybe naive), but I have a lot to say. I have opinions and education and experience to back up how I feel, but that's not why I’m writing. This isn’t about me. My daily life has started to revolve around this amazing group of 14 students. You might have heard about them if you’re paying attention to the 90% by 2020 initiative. The Graduation Youth Task Force is truly the most stunning group of young people I’ve ever met.

There are tons of people in this city who focus on young people every day and honestly if you were to go and talk to them, I’m sure they would tell you all sorts of stories about amazing young people in our city.

WARNING: The following is an extremely biased statement:

Those other people may say things like “My students (kids, young people, youths, etc.) are the best ones in the city!” but they’re wrong. Mine are. They actually are. I’ve even compiled some data for you about them!

  1. They won the the 2016 Outstanding Youth Group in Philanthropy from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Alaska Chapter.

  2. To date the students have a total of 1,451 volunteer hours since March 27…

  3. They have presented to groups across the city, including United Way’s Leadership team, the teachers at East High School, the freshman class at East and West high schools,  parents at the Bartlett open house, the Anchorage School Board, Wells Fargo representatives from the West Coast, and many more.

  4. They’ve made a quadrilingual (?) (four languages) video aimed at parents. The kids came up with the storyboard, filmed, directed, and produced the video.

  5. They’re all in classes above grade level, including AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) classes.

  6. Ten of the fourteen of them claim English as their second language, and quite a few speak a third.

And that's just a few things. Talk to them about their lives, better yet, I’m going to see if they’ll write a few posts, then you can really see.

All in all, this a group of world changers, and they’re all under the age of 18. Indulge me while I tell you a few short stories:

During the school year, we met for 2 hours a week. Over the Spring, the students were learning about what problems we face in Anchorage and across the country in relation to graduation and attendance rates. When we started planning projects, and moving into the summer months, we needed to change our schedule. Originally they asked to meet twice a week for two hours each time. The next week they came back to me and asked if we could meet twice a week for three hours each day. To say I was shocked is an understatement. I talked them down to a three hour and a two hour meeting a week, for a grand total of five hours a week. I think one of the strongest narratives that I heard over the summer was that we needed more time together to finish our work. Seeing such an engaged group was equally shocking and motivating.

Every year there is a conference for all the TRIO programs in the Northwest. My supervisor, Kaitlin and I planned to present. As life happens, I didn’t end up getting to go, but Kaitlin still wanted to present. So I made a video asking the kids questions about what the Task Force has done for them. Watching the full videos from each of them was so validating. I can see how they’ve grown on the outside this year, but hearing about how they’ve grown from the inside is just as astounding. Here is the link to the video so you can hear their perspectives.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaaRiVJXbJg) Seriously, these kids rule and I want EVERYONE TO KNOW!

That’s all I’m going to write, but I could honestly talk about each of these students for days and weeks and months and years, but I won’t do that here. Come and talk to me more about them, because they are one of my favorite topics. Oh, and go check out our page on the 90 by 2020 website to read more about each of them. And if you feel like you want to spread the word about attendance and the message that young people can share, share our “Attendance Matters” video! (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhSndOwY46U)


Thank you!

Raising Expectations

By Damian Bilbao, BP

Alaskans have always risen to a challenge and raised expectations of what we can accomplish. Without high expectations, efforts often fall short of the mark. Without the support of the community, goals remain unfulfilled. High expectations and community support can also enable our children to reach their full potential. That is why I support the 90% by 2020 community effort to improve high school graduation rates in Anchorage and why I am proud to be its co-chair.

90% by 2020 is a unique collaboration to improve high school graduation rates to 90% or above by 2020, and then continue to improve. We do that through a data driven effort to drive improvement in graduation rates. We are a partner, not a substitute for the Anchorage School District and support a common mission of providing our children with a strong foundation from which to successfully move into a next phase of their lives. To support this, 90% by 2020 coordinates community efforts to improve student performance at four points, 1) kindergarten readiness, 2) 3rd grade reading, 3) 8th grade math and 4) high school credit completion. Our data tells us that these four points have the strongest impact on high school graduation rates. 

When people learn that I represent BP in 90% many are surprised that 90% includes not just many great non-profit and education organizations, but private industry as well. It is in BP’s interest to hire Alaskans.  It is also in our own best interest to ensure we have a source of qualified talent for years to come. Next year Prudhoe Bay and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline will celebrate their 40th anniversaries, and there are many years to come of oil production, and hopefully soon, gas sales. That can only happen if we have an educated work force.  That is why BP has agreed to support the Back On Track component of 90%by2020 by donating $30,000. Back On Track is a partnership between United Way Of Anchorage, Covenant House Alaska and the Anchorage School District to provide credit completion options and wraparound services to 185 homeless and at risk youth to earn their high school diploma.

Alaska is my home. My wife and I have three children who attend public schools in Anchorage. We want them to be part of a generation of future Alaskans that is prepared to overcome challenges in the decades to come, some similar to those that this state has faced before and others that may be different and more complex. That is only possible if we all commit ourselves to doing two things: 1) Raise our own expectations of what we expect from ourselves and our children, and 2) Provide students with the tools required to fulfill those expectations, starting with an earned high school diploma. A young adult without a high school diploma will struggle to take a next step in their life, whatever that next step might be: a job, the armed services, trade school or college.
We must all raise our expectations of our community, our children and ourselves. Please consider what you can do to support our community by taking action. Tutor a fifth grader in math or reading. Donate to an organization that helps to prepare children for kindergarten (did you know that is one of the strongest indicators of high school graduation?). Visit bethechange907.org and find out how you can volunteer in the community, and connect with an organization that could use your help. Above all else, let’s raise our expectations of ourselves, our friends, our co-workers and be part of an effort to improve our community, our Alaska.

Why Chalk?

It’s the very first day of the school year, and the rain has been coming down for weeks now. It doesn’t matter. Even with the steady shower of rain people have come for Chalk the Walks. It's lunchtime, and usually people would be eating, relaxing and building up energy for the next half of the day. Instead they're outside, bundled up: raincoats, boots, scarves, bright umbrellas, and all holding chalk. 

They’re hunched over as the rain drips down their coats and onto the sidewalk, fingers with chalk moving carefully across the concrete. Arms and chalk sweep across in curves. The chalk stands out brightly in the rain, vibrant pinks, blues, yellows, the messages popping out at you as you walk up to the front door. "Happy 1st Day!" "Good luck! "Bright Days Ahead!" "We love you!"  

Even though everyone is damp, people are still smiling and laughing. The kids inside mimic their smiles, slow grins as they walk to class and lunch, heads turned to look out the windows at the chalk as they pass. Some pause, their eyes scanning the messages. Left to right. Up and down. They smile bigger and their eyes crinkle around the corners. They stand a little taller as they walk to class.  

Then it's done. The extra chalk is packed away and one by one people get back into their cars and leave.  And at the end of the hour, once everyone has packed up and gone, heading back to work, the messages stand bright against the dark of the cement, the chalk smeared a little but still there. By the next school day the chalk is washed away. 

A week goes by and school starts for the first graders and kindergartners. It’s sunnier today and again people are out with chalk. This time it’s the students. 4th, 5th, and 6th graders are all out with chalk in their hands and dust on their clothes writing out words of encouragement. My favorite is a girl carefully drawing a flower under her simple message of "welcome." Her eyes are scrunched up and she painstakingly draws every petal. 

Their teachers are on the ground also, bent over and smiling and helping the younger students spell out some of the words. A couple of kids stand quietly to the side, chalk in their hands, staring at the empty ground. They see their teacher writing messages and watch her. She stretches out to write a long exclamation point for her note of encouragement and looks behind her at the kids and smile. They smile back and get down on the ground as they begin to write.  

And soon the entrance to school is covered with messages, the messages crowding each other out along the sides of the school. It’s worth it to see the kindergartners and first graders stare at the messages and pictures, watching their faces light up. For the next week their faces will light up as they come into school, feeling just a little more confident as they enter school.The writing’s a little shaky, with words misspelled here and there but it doesn’t matter. The care and thought is there.  

We need all of Anchorage to support our students and provide these type of thoughtful actions towards our students. It's everyone's responsibility to help students on their path to school. When an event like Chalk the Walks happens, students can see that they have more than parents and teachers supporting them. They have the community. 

Two small activities, done in just a couple of hours-- but two hours of work that encourage students as they start the year. It's something different that helps them feel like somebody cares, that somebody believes in them. Where they can think that hey, maybe if an adult thinks they can do it, maybe they can do it. It's just a little bit of encouragement from unexpected sources, where it's not just parents or teachers. It's the community; it's everyone.   

And with  everyone supporting students, we can get everyone to graduation as well.

-Grace Mitton

Four things parents can do to prepare kids for financial success

by Anthony Snider, Wells Fargo
When was the last time you thought about money? Chances are, it was probably today, since most adults deal with money — in one way or another — on a daily basis. We pay bills and buy groceries. We consider money when weighing job opportunities, determining where we’ll live, and when, or for some, if, we might be able to retire.


We are faced with financial decisions constantly. Yet the vital skills of money management, budgeting, and saving are often missing from the curriculum at our children’s schools. It’s one of the reasons why National Financial Literacy Month, observed each April, and the American Bankers Association’s Teach Children to Save Day on April 29, are so important.

So what should you do to help prepare your kids for a successful, healthy, lifelong relationship with money? Here are four things you can talk with them about now.

Tackling community factors that impact student learning - Run/Walk for Warmth

by Shawn Rivera, Emerging Leaders
While the graduation rate in Anchorage has climbed to over 80% over the past decade, the graduation rate is presumably much lower for children who experience homelessness. Some reasons for this include increased absenteeism, an increased likelihood for them to have lower test scores, and having difficulty focusing in school because they are hungry or unsure where they are going to sleep.  It doesn't have to be this way. And you can help.  On February 20, 2016, United Way of Anchorage will be hosting its 6th Annual Run & Walk for Warmth which is the only community event that raises money specifically to help cover rent and utility bills when families need it most - the coldest months of the year.

Embrace the AMP: Setting high expectations for our children and our future

by June Sobocinski, United Way of Anchorage
Anchorage just got its first look at how students fared on Alaska’s new standardized testing, Alaska Measures of Progress (AMP), and the results were simultaneously disturbing, and long overdue.  We have before us a tremendous opportunity, if we dare to seize it.  Knowing early and accurately how our students are doing in English and math provides a formidable tool to greatly improve education results in Alaska.

Celebrate Family Literacy Month and read with your kids

by Natasha Price, Spirit of Youth
A couple of weekends ago my son and I were walking through the mall. We decided to take a break on a bench and people watch. Jack, age 3 and a half, was absorbing his surroundings. “I see a F, O, O, T,” he said as he looked up at an athletic shoe store sign. I took this as an opportunity to help him sound out the word he had just spelled aloud. “What letter makes a ‘fff’ sound?” I asked him.

November 1 marked the start of Family Literacy Month, a nationwide initiative to encourage families to read together through community events and at-home activities.