State Farm awards 'smart choices' grant

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2008

JUNEAU - Local teens will get more support to stay in school from their peers, community and business leaders, because of a State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant.

To combat Juneau's alarming high school dropout rate, State Farm agent Reuben Willis presented a $1,500 State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant check to the Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska to help establish the Smart Choices Society.

Central Council President Bill Martin and Economic Development intern Kyle Duncan accepted the grant on Jan. 10 in the Andrew Hope Building.

The Smart Choices Society is designed to encourage students in Juneau-Douglas High School to stay in school, graduate, and continue toward future life success. The society will reward students who make smart decisions and work to improve their grades, explained Central Council Economic Development Duncan.

The program hits especially close to home for its originator. A former high school dropout himself, Duncan's concern and idea for the Society came from his experience and a desire to help more students graduate from Juneau-Douglas High School, which estimates about 5 percent of its students dropout and a higher 9 percent of its Alaska Native students fail to graduate.

Juneau Douglas' dropout rate aligns with a dangerous statewide and national crisis that continues to climb. Alaska has seven high schools recently labeled "dropout factories" by a John Hopkins University study for the Associated Press. Schools where less than 60 percent of the students who start as freshman fail to graduate.

Students will be invited to join the society after referral from educators and other adults. Smart Choices Society members must provide proof of academic progress to remain in the club, which will meet informally several times a month in casual settings, hosting guest speakers to discuss improving study skills, life skills, career choices, and the regional business scene.

State Farm, Sealaska, Goldbelt, the Small Business Administration, University of Alaska Southeast and others support the program.

"State Farm is proud to recognize the Central Council's innovative approach to addressing the dropout concern in Juneau," said Willis. "We hope our support of the Society helps students stay in school and establish sound consumer skills and financial awareness."

"It's critical that we break the drop-out cycle," says Central Council President Bill Martin. "Today's tribal youth are tomorrow's future leaders. With The Smart Choices Society we will continue to support tribal youth education and increase leadership skills needed for our youth to succeed, strengthening future generations."

As coordinator of "The Smart Choices Society," 16-year-old Kyle Duncan will be a peer mentor to members.

"As a youth, I know, if teens are rewarded for their smart decisions, they'll continue to make good decisions," said Duncan. "Having the chance to meet face-to-face with successful adults, local business and community leaders will motivate people like me to stay in school and improve their scholastic skills."

In testament to his message and goals, Duncan recently received his GED, works at the Central Council and was just accepted to University of Alaska Southeast.

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