My turn: In defense of Yaakoosge Daakahidi and its students

Posted: Tuesday, December 16, 2008

There was an article recently about Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School students sanding blocks that would be used both as Christmas gifts for children of some of the students and as donations to local charities.

After the article online, a comment was posted that questioned the funding of such a project and seemed very critical. Others did come back to this comment telling him that all the materials used in this project were donated and thanking the students for their gift. Frankly, though, I was not satisfied. It seems that time and time again, when this school is mentioned, I hear numerous negative comments that are especially critical of the students. There is much about YK and its students that I don't think the general population knows, and I would like to set the record straight.

I have seen inside YK for over a year now while my daughter struggles to both regain her health and get her high school diploma. I have worked with some of her classmates - one of whom confided to me that he learned more in a year at YK than he had in three years at Juneau-Douglas High School. I have seen staff bend over backwards helping students achieve the high school diploma they want.

Every single student at YK is there because they want to be there; they have made a personal decision that they want a high school diploma. Many times this is in spite of already facing adult responsibilities, sometimes through no fault of their own. The story brought to light the fact that some of the students are single parents. However, it said nothing about the students who attend who face problems such as homelessness, lack of heat, or abuse. These are all problems that will be faced by some adults, but not all, and should never be faced by someone who has yet to reach adulthood and yet has the adult responsibility of dealing with the circumstance. It also says nothing about the students who attend and have faced circumstances that, with any luck, no adult would ever face (I have left out the particulars to protect the students' privacy).

While the admission process ensures that the students really want a diploma, the requirements to attend try to ensure that they learn to be productive members of society no matter what they deal with in life. Every student is required to either hold a steady job or to perform community service hours above the hours earned at school or ordered by the judicial system. And, they have a very stringent attendance policy that says if you miss better than four days of class in any quarter (in the absence of extreme medical problems), you will be dropped and each four tardies is the equivalent of one absence; even 30 seconds late constitutes a tardy.

I remember an advertisement awhile ago for a youth organization that had young people stating it was time they were considered not on their looks but by their actions. The same applies to these students. Last winter, when the school held an overnight out the road, several of the boys pulled my daughter through the snow without ever being asked; earlier this week she commented on how many congratulatory comments she received when she was finally able to walk at school and not use her wheelchair for the day. And, I remember a saying that says something to the effect that one should not criticize until they have walked a mile in the other's shoes.

My daughter's own grandmother, I think, put it best when she said, "Given the same set of circumstances, I don't know if I could do it. ... get up day in and day out and deal with everything she deals with and manage it all; I would have given up long ago."

Yaakoosge Daakahidi is a wonderful school that fills a vital role in this community. The students should be congratulated for what they are working to achieve and not castigated because they did not fit the mold at JDHS.

• Tracy Hansen is the mother of a Yaakoosge Daakahidi student.

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