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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Explorers Wanted!

Adam Mokelke, Principal of STrEaM Academy

Summertime in Alaska is truly unique and magical. For me it means sunlight all night, beautiful weather, an explosion of green, fish running, nature calling "come out and play." I grew up in rural Alaska, like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, on the banks of the Kuskokwim instead of the mighty Mississippi. It was not uncommon for my brothers and I to set out at dawn and reappear late at night, tired and dirty, often wet, toting grayling or pike, a satchel of morels or bellies full of blueberries. Most of all I loved to fish, from casting and catching grayling, char and pike, or hand fishing by sneaking up on gray shadows holding in tiny streams, sliding my hand slowly under their bellies and pulling them thrashing from the cool water.  I grew up in the woods, hunting and fishing, wandering and exploring, my imagination and the wilderness around me more than enough. It shaped who I am, and to this day I return to the woods to center myself and find peace.
Little Adam and Mom fishing the Innoko

My childhood experiences were just as formative, if not more, as my formal education. Fortunately we had no television, leading me to read voraciously when I could be outside playing, building forts, and catching fish. Certainly, reading fed my inquisitive mind and contributed to who I am and where I am today. However, no time in a classroom can match the impact of sledding, splitting wood, climbing mountains, building rafts, tunneling snow forts, and creating my own universe with my friends and siblings.  

Flyfishing the Newhalen River
Today, building rafts and forts has turned into building a treehouse for my kids, or crafting my outdoor sauna. Hand fishing Dolly Varden has changed to fly fishing for Rainbow trout. No longer do I have to haul water and split wood for daily living, but as often as possible I camp (out of cell service) in places where I have to do these things. Wide-eyed wandering takes shape as hiking long hours in places like Hatcher’s Pass, or trail running through the woods. Like so many Alaskans, the outdoors is a critical part of my life, as it should be. As our society rapidly modernizes and technology become ubiquitous, we must make sure it is also this way for our own children. While I love computers and gaming, and embrace smartphones and iPads, I know with more tech comes a stronger need to balance it with time in nature. Children more than ever have facts, information, data and answers at their fingertips, so more than ever there is immense value in getting them outdoors to build, grow, discover, imagine and adventure. To explore.

This is why I believe in STrEaM Academy, the new charter school opening in East Anchorage this fall. STrEaM (Science, Technology, research, Engineering, arts and Math) is for middle school students, who most of all struggle with sitting still and keeping confined. Our mission is to teach them through projects, life experiences, field trips, presentations, hands-on learning: exploration and adventure. Let's get kids outside, inquiring and discovering, and take advantage of the incredible environmental resources that surround us. Let’s embrace technology, while making sure no child is left indoors. I am so excited to embark on this new adventure, doing great things for kids. We have room for a few more this fall: 
Explorers wanted!