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Sen. Murkowski tours TMHS

Calls school most 'phenomenally beautiful' she has seen in Alaska

Posted: November 6, 2012 - 12:07am

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, visited Juneau Monday for a day full of meetings, but she also spent more than an hour visiting Thunder Mountain High School, talking with students and staff, and observing a couple of the school’s more popular classes.

Murkowski was guided on her tour of the school by three students in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, or AVID.

“It’s essentially a college prep and career readiness course,” AVID teacher Annie Janes explained to Murkowski. “If you ask any of my AVID students, they’re working on going to college.”

Murkowski spent much of her time talking to the students, Corbin Backhaus, Chloey Cavanaugh and Tatiana King, as they led her through the high school, which opened in 2008. A small escort of school staff trailed loosely behind, along with a Murkowski aide and Juneau School District Chief of Staff Kristin Bartlett.

At certain rooms, Murkowski stopped in to visit a class, often speaking with a teacher or student individually.

Murkowski seemed especially impressed by the school’s digital arts laboratory, which teacher Jan Neimeyer described as among the most advanced in the state.

“Is this the best course in the school, or is this just one of many good ones?” Murkowski asked a student.

“This is one of the better ones,” senior Dylan Johnson answered. “We have so much technology that we’re able to use. We can just do so much with what we have, you know, and we can just do anything that our minds want us to do.”

Murkowski told Neimeyer and her class, “I go to a lot of schools. I’m trying to get into every school in the state. And I have yet to see anything like this. This is first-rate.”

That praise was extended to the entire school when Murkowski took to the public announcement system during lunch to speak to the entire student body.

“I have never been in a high school in this state that is as phenomenally beautiful, well laid out, and with all of the bells and whistles as you have here at Thunder Mountain,” Murkowski declared. “So I sure hope that you appreciate what you have. It’s gorgeous. Do you like it?”

The students responded with cheers and applause.

Election Day is Tuesday, which Murkowski noted as she pivoted to the next part of her remarks.

“People that are running for office, they’re always saying, ‘Well, young people aren’t engaged. They’re not voting,’” Murkowski said. “Well, part of the problem is that the politicians, the policymakers, those who are asking for your vote, forget or omit or skip over the young people. So if we’re not talking to you, we’re not listening to you, then why do we figure that you should be a participant in the process in the first place?”

Murkowski said she visited TMHS, as she has visited many other Alaska schools, in order to learn “what’s going on in the schools, what the needs are, what the challenges are, and really, where the future lies.”

Matthew T. Felling, Murkowski’s Washington, D.C.-based communications director, said shortly before the visit that Murkowski makes a point of trying to visit schools.

“We try to get to a school every town she’s in,” said Felling. “This is something that’s part of our routine-slash-commitment.”

Principal Dan Larson said afterward that the school welcomes visitors who want a first-hand look at the educational process.

“I just think that community involvement and school improvement is critical, and that oftentimes, people that have opinions about schools haven’t been in a school in ages,” Larson said. “So I would just put the invitation out to the community that you know, we are a community school. We do welcome visitors. And the senator took that opportunity to come and see for herself.”

Murkowski also presented a copy of the book “Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival” by Velma Wallis, as well as a United States flag she said had been flown briefly over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as gifts to the school.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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