days into a student leadership conference, 16-year-old Timothy Snowball
from St. Michael had mustered up the courage to do what many people
fear most: speak in front of his peers.
His experience as emcee for the conference's
talent show taught him "to make myself go out there and speak
in front of my students, to make myself more clear, to make myself
Around 250 high school students came to
the Alaska Native Heritage Center on Monday for a three-day student
leadership conference. About half were from Anchorage schools, and
the other half from rural towns like Eyak, Wales and Quinhagak.
The conference included workshops and keynote speakers.
The first day's speaker, Howard Rainer,
from Brigham Young University's Native American Educational Outreach
programs, inspired Timothy the most.
His reserve fading as he spoke Wednesday,
Timothy said Rainer helped him stretch his mind and strive to be
more of a leader for his school.
Joanne Pootoogooluk, 17, of Shishmaref
High School, said speakers taught her to take charge and have more
"They give you that encouragement.
They make you feel like you can do anything you want," she
Timothy and Joanne, both from the Bering
Straits School District, and another student from Wales, were brought
to the conference "because you could see the spark there,"
said their chaperone, Bea Stough.
Stough said in villages where the norm
is to be reserved, the students are learning "how you can lead
in a quiet way, how you can change others' lives."
Walter Northway School brought nine of
its 11 high school students.
It's been a tough year for Northway, a
village 50 miles southeast of Tok, said teacher Mike Cronk. Many
students have been failing classes, and the school had to cancel
the basketball season because not enough students had the grades
to play, he said.
So the school looked at the conference
as a way to give the students a break.
"Maybe they'll refocus," Cronk
said. "You're always hoping."
And over the three days of workshops and
featured speakers, Cronk has seen some students blossom.
For instance, 14-year-old Glen Marunde,
was chosen for a group that required him to tell everyone why he
was there. The eighth-grader said he was nervous but "I just
did it. Once I got up there, it was easier than I thought."
Cronk added, "If our goal was to
have one kid get out of here with something, I think we've met that
goal. ... You can only hope something like this will make a difference
in their lives."
The conference was sponsored by the Alaska
Native Heritage Center, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., the Cook Inlet
Tribal Council, Inc., the Alaska Humanities Forum, the First Alaskans
Foundation and the Multicultural Student Leadership Conference Committee.