My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

Sitka, Home to Mt. Edgecumbe High School; Alaska’s Largest Boarding HS

on September 10, 2013

Sept. 6/7, 2013

Sitka by the sea is a beautiful community in SE, Alaska and I know I have written about it before.  This trip I thought I would highlight Mt. Edgecumbe High School (hereafter, MEHS) which is a boarding high school in AK. What makes it unique is that it is run by the state and is public for anyone that applies and is accepted.  Currently there are 400 + students from over 100 Alaska communities are in attendance there.  Image

The name comes from the beautiful mountain, Mount Edgecumbe that is located on Kruzof Island, within eye site of Sitka.   It was a volcano that lies dormant now, but on most days you can see it from the school.   Historically MEHS is one of the oldest schools in the state.  In 1947 the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) established this and other boarding schools to offer opportunities to Native Alaskans.  Many great Alaska Native leaders are graduates of MEHS including several Senators and Legislators.  Image

In the 1980’s the doors were closed on the school after a 16 year old, Molly Hootch, sued the state of Alaska, stating that all Alaskans should be giving the chance to go to school in their home villages and NOT have to go to a boarding high school to be educated.  She won and in the 1980’s all boarding schools in the state were closed.   Over the next few years, over 100 schools were built and opened in rural Alaska.  http://right2education.wikispaces.com/Molly+Hootch

Why, you ask, do students choose to go to a school 100’s of miles from their home in an area of the state that is only accessible by boat or plane?  Well, there are several reasons including a top notched education, and opportunities to play many sports, join a variety of clubs as well as the fact that over 90% of graduates from MEHS go on for more education after they graduate.   Since 90% of the students are Alaska Native and come from rural “Bush” communities, Sitka is a huge community and 400 students is much bigger than some of their villages.   Image

For 6 years I worked closely with the residential staff at MEHS and the feel in the residence halls is much a family feel.  Many students are ‘adopted’ by local families and have places to go for holidays and on weekends or evenings.  There is a lot of effort put into the living environment and an attempt to make the place feel like home.  Students often walk over the bridge from MEHS which sits on  Japonski Island (along with the airport and the Coast Guard Base), to the main town of Sitka which sits on Baranof Island (one of the 3 ABC islands, Admiralty, Baranof and  Chichagof).  Image

One last funny, I’ve heard a story that on April Fools Day some years ago, some individuals took a boat ride over to mountain and climbed it, tossed in a bunch of old tires and started them on fire, making individuals back in town think the volcano was erupting again!

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