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Digital Connection Helps Kodiak Students

Cross-posted from the Alaska Dispatch News:

For students heading back to school this month in Kodiak, it's anything but "class as usual." Because at Kodiak Island Borough School District, 400 miles from Anchorage and accessible only by airplane and ferry, ConnectED investments in high-speed internet and new technology have transformed the student experience — with remarkable results.

Walking through Kodiak High School offers a glimpse at the transformative role education technology is playing in rural America. In one classroom, students use videoconferencing technology to connect with teachers and students from across the island — expanding their horizons through virtual field trips and never-before-available courses like music and civics. Math offerings, once limited to algebra, now include online and distance-learning courses all the way up through calculus. And before and after school, high-speed connectivity allows teachers to tap into interactive professional development and training to customize student learning based on individual needs.

Teaching Rural Alaskans to Farm is her Passion

The following guest blog from University of Alaska Fairbanks highlights the professionalism and dedication of educators in the Cooperative Extension System.

By Debbie Carter, University of Alaska Cooperative Extension

Heidi Rader planned to become a farmer when she graduated from college.

During high school and college, she worked a succession of jobs at greenhouses and farms that seemed to be leading to an agricultural career.  For her master’s degree, she grew snap beans and lettuce, and studied high-tunnel production at University of Alaska Fairbanks’ School of Natural Resources and Extension Fairbanks Experiment Farm.

49 Historic Sites in the 49th State

This year America celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. Alaska was still celebrating its first decade of statehood when the Preservation Act was passed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. Since then, the act has empowered the U.S. Forest Service to identify and preserve the state’s rich cultural history, including heritage sites that date back to time immemorial.

In honor of the 50th Anniversary, the 49 Sites in the 49th State website was developed by the Alaska Region and partners such as the State of Alaska, Native corporations and tribes, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Land Management, and others to help state residents and out-of-state visitors explore. The site features many historical sites and treasures such as the Iditarod National Historic Trail, Lost Whaling Ships in the Bering Strait, and M/V Chugach ranger boat, the last of 10 Forest Service ranger boats that once plied the waters of the Tongass and Chugach national forests.

Alaska Beavers Entertain Web Cam Viewers Around the World

Two beavers sleep peacefully in their den on Steep Creek in Juneau, Alaska, never realizing they are being watched via a hidden infrared camera. Hundreds of viewers tune-in to a live video feed on the U.S. Forest Service YouTube Channel throughout the day to see the beavers come and go, breathing rhythmically as they nap and then stretch, chew and scratch an occasional itch.

Although the beaver cam is now an established fixture at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, it started out of simple curiosity according to Pete Schneider, a natural resource specialist for the Tongass National Forest. He and fisheries biologist Don Martin first experimented with a beaver cam in 2004 after they saw a cache of food in front of a beaver lodge on Steep Creek. It was a sure indication that beavers, who have a tendency to move around, were actually using the lodge at the time. They decided to run electricity through a conduit to that location in order to power an infrared camera.

Celebrating American Agriculture: All USDA Foods are Local to Someone

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

Fish and fowl, sowing and reaping, nutrition and agriculture… certain words and concepts naturally go hand in hand, and March is a month to celebrate both the foundation and purpose of the American food system. With March designated as National Nutrition Month and March 15 as National Agriculture Day, the time is ripe to reflect on healthy eating goals and to express gratitude for the farmers, fishers, and ranchers who provide the foods to fuel our nation.

USDA’s Food Distribution Programs work at the intersection of nutrition and agriculture. Each year, USDA purchases more than 2 billion pounds of food worth nearly $2 billion from American farmers and distributes the food to schools, food banks, Indian Tribal Organizations, disaster feeding organizations, and other charitable institutions and feeding organizations. The programs benefit both ends of the food chain by supporting local agriculture and the economy while also providing a nutrition safety net for vulnerable Americans.

A Walk in the Woods and Never be "The Marching Man"

On a sunny January morning in 2010, Tony Tolsdorf had no idea that a walk in the woods would become the longest night of his life.

“It was really warm that morning, probably 55 or 60 degrees,” he recalls. “It was one of those days where you just have to get outside and do something, so I went for a hike in the Columbia River Gorge.”

His plan was to hike on a creek side trail for about seven miles, then climb onto a ridge and hike back toward his car.

The Chugach Children's Forest is Transforming Lives for Future Generations

“If you were to tell me three years ago that in two years, I would be camping a couple feet away from a glacier and kayaking next to icebergs, I would tell you that you are out of your mind,” said Isabel Azpilcueta.

But life takes us in unexpected directions, and that is exactly what Isabel – a Chugach Children’s Forest alumni – found herself doing during a Habitat Restoration Kayaking Expedition on the Chugach National Forest, in Alaska.

High Five for Partnerships with Native Americans and Alaska Natives

2015 was another banner year for innovative Federal / Tribal partnerships, government-to-government relations with Federally Recognized Tribes and investments that continue to improve the quality of life for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Here are five examples from this past year of ways USDA and this Administration have built on their deep commitment to improving our working relationships with Tribes and helping them meet unique challenges facing tribal communities head-on.

A High Five for Transformed Communities

If there's a pinnacle of pride I have in our USDA Rural Development staff, it's their ability to work with rural communities and our public and private partners to be a positive force for transformation in cities and towns across the country. For my #HighFive to our staff at Headquarters and in field offices across the nation and territories, I want to highlight five projects that have transformed rural communities.

In west Tennessee, contaminated groundwater and the lack of a public water treatment facility were causing health concerns and uncertainty for the residents of Springville and Sandy Beach, and they had few affordable options for addressing these serious issues. With investment from USDA Rural Development and other federal and state partners, the communities now share nearly 30 miles of water distribution lines and a new tank that provide clean, safe, and reliable water to the area.

Northern Lights Shine on Capitol Hill

When U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan asked Anna Devolld, a ten year old child from Alaska, to flip the switch, a momentary hush came across the crowd as thousands of lights on a massive tree illumined the West Lawn just below both Houses of Congress.

More than a year of planning went into the lighting of the first US Capitol Christmas Tree from Alaska. Hand crafted ornaments made by hundreds of children and other folks in Alaska now bask in the glow of thousands of lights on the 74 ft. Lutz spruce harvested from the US Forest Service’s Chugach National Forest.