The Sister School Exchange is a unique, experiential program that promotes understanding among Alaska’s urban and rural communities through cross-cultural exchanges in middle and high schools.  Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Alaska Native Education Program, the Sister School Exchange has engaged in cross-cultural exchanges in Alaska for the last fifteen years.


Below is a series of frequently asked questions for educators involved in guiding students through the program.

What is the maximum number of students that travel? Minimum?

The Sister School Exchange funds travel for a maximum of five students per traveling team.Teams must have a minimum of three students to travel.


What happens when a student has to drop out?

If the student has failing grades, or conflicting sports or academic events during travel, the parents and teacher decide if the student is to drop. If there is time for another student to participate in the curriculum leading up to the Exchange, an alternate may join the Exchange in the empty spot. If a student has forfeited his trip by breaking program rules and policy, then the parent/guardian is required to pay for the student’s flight home if travel has already begun. If the student is sick or injured, medical care is given, parents are included in the decision of when and where to fly the student to for care.


How do you get parents and community members involved?

Parents and community members are asked to join the Exchange itself and/or help in preparation. Parents can also join in SSE day to day activities by provide transportation and joining students on their Areas for Explorations, potlucks, lock ins or school sponsored events like dances, band performances or culture festivals. The Sister School Exchange program gives teacher a Community Event planning worksheet to help guide in the planning of events.

What is required for students when traveling?

Since students are representing the Sister School Exchange at all times, students are expected to follow the conduct and rules of the program. They are also expected to complete the tasks required for the exchange trip. Students are also responsible for bringing clothing, medications and hygiene items while traveling.

How have students handled purchasing gear for cold weather during exchanges?

Students rarely need to purchase gear for cold weather. Layers underneath standard winter gear work well. As we do not purchase gear for students or provide a stipend to do so, we encourage teachers to use communal gear (reaching out first to the Exchange team and their school community). If you need additional ideas, please contact the SSE staff and we will brainstorm with you.

What gifts do students typically bring for host families?

There is no incorrect answer to this question, so long as the visiting students and teacher consider being respectful of the host community. We suggest that you work with your partner teacher to come up with ideas of small gifts that would be appreciated. As an example, an urban school traveling to a rural community in February could bring a large bag of apples or oranges from Costco to share with host families.

How do I pay for travel expenses?

The SSE program pays for all travel expenses, including airfare, any hotels needed, taxis and food while in transit.Students are expected to pay for any miscellaneous expenses like souvenirs, additional snacks, magazines etc.With enough notice, teachers can apply for a cash advance to pay for expenses they know they will incur, but any remaining funds must be returned to the Alaska Humanities Forum, along with itemized receipts.

What forms of transportation are acceptable during the actual Exchange?

Cars that are insured, have seat belts and are driven by a licensed adult who has been cleared by a background check are permitted to drive students. New student drivers are not allowed to drive. Four wheelers and snow machines are permitted as long students are chaperoned and within town limits, both riders need to wear helmets and appropriate winter gear. Boat rides are approved as long as PFDs are worn and the boat is driven by an adult. Personal or commercial planes are permitted as long as it is part of the program activity or booked by staff. If it is an approved activity, the company/person has to be insured, the pilot must be licensed and the teacher must chaperone the flight.

What happens during weather/travel delays?

Weather delays are normal when traveling to and from rural Alaska.SSE staff will work with the teacher to rebook travel and to arrange for hotel rooms if needed. The Forum will pay for all travel expenses, including new flights, hotel rooms, meals, taxis/shuttles and other reasonable expenses. We provide a contact sheet to use as an emergency phone tree in case travel plans change.


Are you required to host?

It is expected that the resident teacher would host the traveling teacher or make other arrangements for their stay.You are encouraged to share your teaching and community experience just as the students do. All host families, including teachers, are offered a stipend- $150 for urban and $200 for rural.

What are the host families’ responsibilities?

Host family responsibilities are outlined in the Sister School Exchange Family Guide for Host Families and Parents provided to each Traveling Ambassador.  There is a clear expectation for host families to work with both teachers on all activities for students.

What happens if we can’t get enough host families? 

Staying with a family is invaluable on a cultural exchange. In many cases, host families may be able to accommodate more than one student. As a last resort, students may be housed at the host school or itinerary teacher housing, as long as there are enough adults to chaperone, and meals and showers are accessible.

What role do I play in organizing the community and explorations?

As the hosting teacher, you contact people and companies that are related to the topic of exploration for the traveling team. You help organize logistics to visit the sites and meet culture bearers. You also have to create a Host Plan schedule to be submitted online for your partner teacher and program staff to review. Both teachers should talk throughout the program to plan and explore ideas.

How have hosting teachers handled visiting students during the school day?

The goal of the exchange is to have students spending at least a portion of most school days at school to experience the typical day for students/school in the community they visit. There are several ways to incorporate visiting students into the host school’s schedule.


Visiting students typically shadow hosting students for the portion of the school day before or after the visiting student goes on community activities. If there is a home period with the hosting teacher, typically all of the exchange students will go to this home period on the days when visiting students are at school. When there is not a home room period or free period during the day, then visiting students and their teacher have often set aside some time together in the computer lab or library.It is helpful for visiting students to have some access to a computer lab or laptops so that they can complete their homework and SSE work on the SSE website.