Since 2014, Story Works Alaska has been connecting youth and communities in the Anchorage and Bering Strait School Districts through storytelling. A volunteer-run organization, Story Works attracts people who care about the power of stories to build resilience and connect across differences. This September, with the help of an Alaska Humanities Forum mini-grant, they hosted a storytelling workshop in Unalakleet, Alaska with 8th grade and high school students.
It is difficult to fully grasp the impact that Story Works creates without listening to the students who have been through their workshops. They are open and reflective and vulnerable in a way that hardly fits with today’s stereotype of your average closed-off highschooler. In fact, that’s precisely the point. By creating the space and encouragement for youth to tell their own stories, Story Works pushes beyond stereotypes to arrive somewhere far more personal and honest.
Although most of their storytelling workshops take place in Anchorage, for the past three years, Story Works has brought yearly workshops to Frank A. Degnan High School in Unalakleet. This year, Story Works partnered with high school English teacher Giaana Peterson, who is originally from Unalakleet. “No matter how well we as teachers might think we know our students, there's always more to learn, and doing this workshop afforded the time and space to get to know my students even better”, shared Giaana, reflecting on the value that Story Works brought to her classroom. “It also brings me back to our Alaska Native roots of storytelling, and that reinvigorates me as a teacher.”
This relationship-building is at the core of Story Works’ mission, according to Co-Founder and Executive Director Regan Brooks. “People have been telling stories around the world for thousands of years; it’s not something you need to teach people to do”, Regan said. “We don’t teach people to tell stories, we invite them to. What makes a good story is that you want to tell it.”
Following the workshops, students and community members alike came together in Unalakleet to share their stories during an event titled Stories of the Wind. Megan Ellis, who teaches 8th grade in Unalakleet, noted the difference in her students after participating in the workshop; “I noticed a change in my students after sharing their stories, and the excitement to continue sharing and creating in the classroom has continued to grow.”
This April, for the first time, two students from Unalakleet will travel to Anchorage and tell their stories at Extra Credit, Story Works’ annual city-wide storytelling event. Learn more about Story Works’ mission, listen to stories from workshop alums and find out how to get involved at their website: storyworksak.org.
Photographs taken by 10th grade Degnan High School Student Anna Pleasant