This week on Kenai Conversation, we spoke with Jane Beck, Executive Director of Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula; Kenney Daher, a Site Coordinator with Project GRAD's Alaska Native Education Program; and Shellie Worsfold, an Academic Afterschool Coach for Project GRAD.
A lot of schools in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District are in the borough's cities, connected to most of the peninsula through the road system. But others are more remote, accessible only by plane or boat. And it can be hard for students in those communities to access the same opportunities as others.
Project GRAD is a national initiative to close that opportunity gap and get more students in rural communities through high school and beyond. The local branch of Project GRAD partners with the district, local nonprofits and other entities to bring resources and programming to students in nine of the most isolated Kenai Peninsula schools.
I would like to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Dena’ina people, descendants of Mount Susitna, the Sleeping Lady, for allowing me as a visitor on their beloved lands. I am also mindful and honored to be welcomed by the Suqpiaq people, to connect with them on the cherished lands of their ancestors. I respect and honor their homelands and history.
Thank you for joining us as we come together after many months of separation and isolation. It is my hope that this gathering will be a gentle yet rejuvenating place for all of us to connect, laugh a little, share, and learn from one another. The theme, Fostering Joy and Resilience, has been driving us through the planning and choice of presenters. I’m confident that with all of us here together, we will indeed rejuvenate in this spirit.
Thank you to all of the presenters, youth leaders, Project GRAD staff, and the Dept. of Education Alaska Native Education program grant for making this conference possible. And thank you to the students, families, communities, and educators for having the confidence in us to participate in what I hope will be an uplifting couple of days.
Jane Beck, Executive Director
Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula
PGKP Youth Supporters: Kenny Daher, Kyle Darbonne, Oliver Beck, Selina Mach, Anna Meredith, and Alex Ravelo PGKP Conference Organizers: Jane Beck; Executive Director and Celeste Novak; Communications Manager
This event is made possible by the U.S. Department of Education and Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula.
Proudly nominated by Selina Mach, Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula
Alaska Arts Education Consortium named Ryann Esteban the 2021 Arts Student Champion for art, "No More Lost Sisters." All three of this year's Champions will be unveiled during an online show released on April 15, 2021, World Art Day. As the Arts Student Champion, Ryann Esteban also has the featured student artist display space within the 2021 Alaska's Heart through Student Art Show and will receive a small scholarship from proceeds of this year's art auction.
No More Lost Sisters
Ryann recently created a piece of artwork, titled “No More Lost Sisters,” to raise awareness about the national epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
In this piece, Ryann intentionally used a faceless woman as the focal point, as she represents the countless Indigenous women who have disappeared or died. Ryann felt that giving the woman a face would have made it more focused on the individual, whereas allowing the woman to be faceless would allow for all of the missing women to be represented and honored.
As an Alaska Native young woman, this piece showcases not only Ryann’s strength and resilience, but also her willingness to be vulnerable through her artwork. While I find her artwork to be quite breathtaking, it is Ryann’s ongoing commitment to highlighting her cultural traditions and human rights issues through her artwork that is truly inspiring.
The crown on the woman’s head represents women as divine beings, while the hand prints represent solidarity with the missing and murdered Indigenous women throughout North America.
About Ryann Esteban
A junior at Port Graham school, Ryann is someone whose presence is felt at the very moment you walk into the classroom. She is kind, confident, and brings a good attitude and sense of humor to everything that she does.
In the summer of 2016, Ryann received a scholarship to attend Sitka Fine Arts Camp, where she had the opportunity to explore her artistic interests and skills. Since that time, Ryann has developed into a well-rounded young artist who is comfortable across multiple artistic mediums.
One common theme throughout Ryann’s artwork is her connection to her Sugpiaq culture. Ryann’s artwork is also often tied to social justice and human rights issues, with a focus on bringing awareness to the issue at hand.
Ryan is a member of Student Council, Native Youth Olympics, a Sources of Strength youth leader at school, and a teen member on the Port Graham Native Council. Ryann also independently created artwork for a sweatshirt that amplified the voices of missing and murdered indigenous women.
From the Director
It is 2020. In light of the unrest, pandemic, uncertainties, and stresses that have defined these months, I feel moved to share a few thoughts about the philosophy driving our work at Project GRAD Kenai Peninsula.
Our staff stands firmly against the systemic injustices that have been so powerfully brought to the forefront in our country. This organization, and the individuals who work within it, are deeply disturbed by the inequalities evidenced throughout all of our systems: criminal justice, health care, education, employment, housing; indeed throughout all of our economic, social, and political systems, we see the suffering endured for too long by our fellow citizens.
But, in order to see, we must look. We must begin by honestly examining ourselves as individuals and recognizing our mistakes. We must search for areas in which we can each be a better and true human being, a more compassionate neighbor, an advocate for those who have suffered.
In order to hear, we must listen. We must attend to the once silenced or ignored voices that are rising out of intense grief and sadness. Each voice deserves to be heard. Each story, an experience.
In order to heal, we must open our hearts and minds, and work hard to ensure that all experience the equality, dignity, and human rights guaranteed in our founding documents. Social media posts, bumper stickers, and tee shirts may proclaim our beliefs, but it is our actions and behaviors that will advance the fight against racism and injustice.
We commit to our own self-reflection in order that we may learn, grow, and advance that which is good.
So, for our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors who have endured inequities and injustice, we stand beside you. We hear you, and we care.