"In high school we all wear masks. In the telling of a personal story, that mask is removed.”
Story Works Alaska participant
Story Works Alaska began in 2014 with the simple yet powerful mission to support youth voices. The program has evolved and expanded over the past two years with funding and support from an Alaska Humanities Forum annual grant (2015) and a growing number of community partnerships.
Today, more than 1,000 students from seven high schools in the Anchorage area have received support and encouragement through Story Works workshops. “Story Works is doing the important work of showing young people how to tell their stories,” explains one of the workshop teachers. “What could be more important in the 21st century than to teach our young people how to responsibly use their voice to expand their connections and potential, to realize their agency?”
The initial project funded by the Forum grant included the development of a classroom storytelling curriculum by Story Works and Anchorage School District (ASD) teachers to provide both educators and the general public with tools for facilitating youth storytelling projects. With help from the college counselor at Bartlett High School, the curriculum has also been adapted into a College Essay Writing curriculum that has supported two series of free Essay Writing workshops for Anchorage-area youth and is available on Story Works’ website.
“Support from the Alaska Humanities Forum helped Story Works build capacity by giving us resources (particularly support from educators and the Alaska Teen Media Institute) and legitimacy as we sought support from others,” explains Executive Director Regan Brooks. “This grant was our first application for funding and we believe it played an important role in our ability to secure over $40,000 of additional support and awards. This project has resulted in spin-off projects, partnerships, and ongoing action that will absolutely live on beyond this grant period.”
One of the spin-off projects is a result of partnership with Spirit of Youth and the Anchorage Collaborative Coalitions to develop a multi-year bullying prevention project using students’ stories and experiences to illustrate the prevalence of bullying and ways that it can be addressed in our community. A Story Works Student Advisory Team grew out of the group of students who worked together to put on the event for this project. This team is currently producing a three-part podcast designed to raise awareness of bullying and bullying prevention.
The Student Advisory Team also hosted storytelling workshops for younger children (grades 1-3) at Denali Montessori Public Elementary School and they used over $1,000 of donations to plan and support a Story Works Alaska in Unalakleet in the fall 2016 semester. This work both locally and across the state is being recognized both by Alaska Center for the Book with the 2016 Contributions to Literacy in Alaska Award and by National Storytelling Network with the 2016 Brimstone Award for Applied Storytelling.
In addition to sharing their stories with volunteers, teachers, and each other through the workshops, youth are now also reaching broader audiences. They have performed on the stage of the Performing Arts Center as part of the Arctic Entries series – in front of an audience of 700 people– and with the Storyteller’s Guild at the Anchorage Museum. In addition, Alaska Teen Media Institute (ATMI) has provided both technological support and expertise in capturing stories to share through social media and public media. This has made it possible for stories to be shared on the Arctic Entries website, and aired on the both Arctic Entries Radio Hour and ATMI’s “In Other News” Youth Radio Hour on KNBA, as well as archived on the ATMI site.
Community volunteers have also played a critical role, volunteering to be story coaches, event support staff, and to fill various other roles to prepare and encourage the students. “This program takes courage and builds confidence, at a time in children’s lives when those attributes are so needed,” describes one volunteer. “I am honored to be involved, and grateful that Story Works exists.”
For further information or to volunteer as a coach, reach out to Regan by visiting storyworksak.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.