Fairbanks Community Meets to Discuss Education Issues

Torie Foote under

Approximately 175 individuals from the Fairbanks community braved extreme cold temperatures to attend a community conversation on education. The catalyst for the forum was the Interior Issues Council-Task Force on Education, launched in May of 2006, to look at issues that affect the Fairbanks community and find ways to address them.

The Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the JP Jones Community Development Center sponsored the event entitled, Educating for Change.

Education professionals, students, parents, community members and leaders came together to explore what the education system, Pre-school to University, training organizations and beyond, offers how to better improve our systems for the global economy.

Using a conference format called Open Space Technology, led by Brian Rogers from Information Insights, participants were asked to address this question: “How can we prepare all learners to successfully manage changes in society, technology and education? 

Participants were invited to identify topics of interest, which were placed into three conversation sessions lasting approximately 40 minutes each. Over 25 diverse topics were identified for the breakout sessions. Participants chose which sessions to participate in, bringing their unique perspectives and expertise to the issues. Individuals were encouraged to share why they had concerns about the topic and what change they would like to see that would lead to better preparation of learners/workers.  A facilitator convened each session, a recorder took notes, and groups were asked to reach consensus around a few specific concrete actions that could be taken by the school district, university and the Fairbanks community.

A wide range of topics emerged, from pre-school preparation for early learners, better community collaboration to support families with children and youth, creating youth-adult partnerships, improved career-technical education options, K-12 system improvements, year round schools, transition improvements between systems and many others.  Most in attendance agreed funding was an underlying issue affecting many ideas, but avoiding duplication, having better collaboration, more effective use of current resources and enhanced funding to address gaps was needed.

Youth who attended the event emphasized that many more youth were prepared to share their ideas and be participants in the change desired, but need to know their ideas are welcomed and will be used.  Trust is a big issue to engage youth.  Using current technology that engages youth is also very important for reaching disengaged youth.

At the close of the event, participants were asked about their ideas for next steps, and about their personal commitment(s) for following through on the many actions identified.  The conveners committed to putting all the notes and actions on the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation web site (currently in process), and invited participants to self select areas of interest to continue to work on to improve the preparation of young people.

As areas are highlighted on the web site individuals will be invited to join in ongoing conversations as they try to resolve issues or improve systems.