Hundreds of students from across Alaska came to Skagway from Sept. 21-23 for the Alaska Association of Student Governments Conference, marking the first ever time Skagway has hosted that event. Above, participants gather before a White Pass &Yukon Route locomotive before taking a ride up to a glacier. PHOTO BY VIVIAN MEYER
By DAN FOX
Even in early fall, Skagway is no stranger to large groups of visitors coming through town, but one recent bundle of travelers rolled through with more on their minds than seeing the sights.
Skagway’s first-ever Alaska Association of Student Governments (AASG) Conference was held from Sept. 21-23, with over 200 students and teachers attending the event.
“We had a great turnout, we had great compliments from students and advisors,” Skagway Student Council President Madison Cox said.
Skagway played host to 166 student delegates, 30 advisors and nine junior-high students for the three days of the conference. The visiting students divided their time between learning about and exploring Skagway, and debating for and against different resolutions presented during the conference.
The first day of the conference, Sept. 21, started with registration and musical performances by Skagway elementary students and a duet by Adalia Deach and Tatum Sager.
After that, the mass of student delegates dove into the business of the conference – meetings and working on resolutions. Starting that night and held throughout the weekend were region meetings, where the delegates gathered by region to discuss potential resolutions, and general assembly meetings, where all 166 delegates collect to speak on the topics up for debate.
The next day, which ran from almost 7 a.m. to midnight, was full of a variety of things.
After meetings in the morning, the students heard from one of the weekend’s speakers, Brandon Love, who performed magic tricks and turned them into life lessons. He had “everyone in his palm,” Skagway Student Council Vice-President Eliza Myers said.
“He was so good,” Myers said. “He was a magician and inspirational speaker, and he was really cool.”
At 11 a.m., the delegates jumped aboard a White Pass & Yukon Route train for a trip up to a glacier. En route, the visiting students got a dose of local history from the train’s announcer. On the way back down, the delegates once more dove into region meetings in the train cars.
Upon getting back to town, the Dakhká Khwaán Dancers – an inland Tlingit dance group from Whitehorse – performed.
The dancers introduced every song and some of the meaning behind it before each performance, and Student Council Advisor Vivian Meyer said she liked that the group talked about different places from the area like Haines and Juneau, not just Skagway.
“These were all kids that were here, so they felt like they were part of it too,” Meyer said. More dancing was scheduled for that evening, with The Days of ’98 show coming to the school for a special performance.
Sunday, the last day of the conference, featured the event’s keynote speaker: Tlingit native Lance Twitchell, Associate Professor of Alaska Native Languages.
Cox said Twitchell presented on the preservation of native language in Alaska, and his experience in that field.
Meyer said that, though Twitchell hadn’t heard the various resolutions discussed by the student delegates, he spoke on a lot of the same topics the students had been discussing.
Through the bevy of work meetings held throughout the event, seventeen total resolutions were proposed, ranging from topics over Veterans Day to sexual assault. These resolutions, if passed, let a student government approach its school board with the weight of the AASG behind it, showing mass student support from across the state for the idea.
Skagway’s resolution for the conference was to implement a weeklong education program related to sexual assault awareness every year in the school.
“So that it’s talked about in our school, and we would work with the School Board and counselors to bring in guest speakers, interactive activities, appropriate content like videos and stuff,” Cox said. “And it passed, unanimously.”
There was discussion of pushing for such an initiative statewide, Cox said, but since it’s easier to start small and grow, she said if the Skagway initiative succeeds then it could potentially be expanded.
Another resolution, put forward by Mat-Su Career & Tech, was to encourage the Alaska School Athletics Association to not support football because of the number of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) cases appearing in players.
That resolution, though it didn’t get passed, won the award for “Resolution of the Conference.” To win that award, a resolution has to be seriously debated, with good points raised on both sides, Myers said.
“It has to be well-written and the author has to present it well,” Myers said. Opinions on that resolution from the Skagway students were split, Cox said.
“It was kind of based on the statistics of CTE, how that affects students and domestic violence which then influences relationships and Alaska statistics as a whole,” Cox said, adding that the goal of the AASG is to better student life. One side of the debate, Cox and Myers said, talked about the benefit playing football can have to students’ education as a passageway to scholarships and its effect as a drug-prevention vehicle. The other was about the negative impacts to health the sport may have.
“It was heavily debated,” Cox said.
During the general assembly debates, any of the 166 students had the chance to step up to the “pro” and “con” microphones and say their piece on an issue.
Meyer said that sometimes fall AASG conferences can have attendees in the 500-attendee range, and that the turnout Skagway saw was a big reason for the event’s success, that the entire group of delegates was able to engage in all the activities together.
“Thank you to everyone who helped put it on,” Cox said. “I’ve always wanted to host an AASG, and I got my chance that I’ll never get again.”