My Turn: Middle school travel ban a bad idea

The recent decision by Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School to discontinue all travel for extra-curricular activities is unbelievably short-sighted. I was one of the concerned community members that attended the Site Council meeting on Feb. 6. Unfortunately, the Council was unaware of this “ambush” of their agenda, and apparently we disrupted their schedule for the evening. I do not apologize – in fact I was just getting warmed up.

The primary reason cited at the meeting was budget constraints. In fact, parents were encouraged to go to the Legislature and lobby for more school funding. I understand the school district has had to cut staff and trim spending. (I will not bring our “need” for a second high school into this now.)

Another reason cited was that not all students could afford to go. As a business owner, and as a parent, I have reached into my pocket many times to make sure Juneau students, not just my own, had these opportunities. I assure you I am not alone.

Additionally, it was said at the meeting that DZ is primarily an academic institution, and that sports could interfere with studies and result in lower grades and reduced quality of education. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In reading some of the other articles, comments, and in talking to parents, I also get the feeling that the culture of this school is now “if not everyone makes the team, nobody can participate”. You are doing a serious disservice to the youth of our community if this is the case. Life is not all unicorns and rainbows. Not everyone will make the team, not everyone will have the grades to travel, and not everyone can be an Olympic champion. Participation is an earned privilege.

Restricting travel which the students, parents, booster clubs and our business community truly fund has far reaching effects beyond the student body of this school. In order to not have disparity between the schools, both middle schools may end up with this policy. I can assure you that if Juneau doesn’t go to Ketchikan and Sitka, those communities will not see the need to come to our community. In turn, the villages will also cease travel. Those kids are isolated enough, and for some of them, a trip to another town is the highlight of their year.

Extracurricular activities give some students the drive they need to be successful in their academics. If they don’t make the grades, they don’t travel, so they learn work ethics. They have to raise funds to pay for it. They learn the value of the dollar, and they learn to understand rejection. They learn how local businesses support them, and in turn learn the sense of community. They learn about other families when they are housed out, and they learn how to be good hosts when the other teams come to Juneau. They learn a healthy sense of sportsmanship and respect.

Reciprocal travel also means a great deal to the outlying communities, and not just financially. Our kids make friends, form lifelong bonds, and start to understand that Southeast Alaska is one big, spread out, small town and the state of Alaska even begins to feel a bit smaller. These students grow up to be voting citizens. It is healthy for them to have familiarity with the region.

It’s not easy for Alaskans to provide these opportunities, because travel is a bit more complicated than loading everyone onto a bus and spending a few hours on the road. However, we made a conscious choice to live in this beautiful place, and this is part of the price we pay. Offering these opportunities keeps our kids active, healthy, mentally and physically challenged and they perform better in school. The opportunities and competition cut down on drug use, teen suicide and in many cases, gives them the drive to take their lives to the next level. Blaming the entire situation on the budget, and encouraging us to lobby the Legislature was a cop out, and a poor one at that.

• White is the Broker/Owner of Prudential Southeast Alaska Real Estate and raised two sons in Juneau.

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