FAIRBANKS — This week I interned at the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. My internship was part of a school project called an apprenticeship. I’m an eighth grader at Chinook Montessori Charter School, and I have to do a Passage Project to be allowed to graduate eighth grade. Apprenticeship is only a piece of Passage, but it’s been the best part so far.
The highlight of my week was getting to interview Gov. Sean Parnell. It was my third interview ever, but Gov. Parnell was really nice and easy to talk to. Here’s how our interview went:
Q. You grew up here. How have things changed in education?
A. The thing I notice most is the attitude of the students.
I think a lot of things have stayed the same and a lot of things have changed. I have really grown concerned about the students I see that they don’t stand up for each other. I think some things have stayed the same in that there is lots of great opportunity, but things are different in the way that students look out for each other and I am concerned. I want to call students to look out for each other ... to protect and defend each other — to help each other make some better choices. If we really value each other as humans ... if we really believe that you as a human being are valuable and worth something, then you’re also worth standing up for.
Q. If you could change one thing about Alaska’s education, what would it be?
A. My whole reason for being governor is to create more opportunity. If I can create more opportunity for young people, then that’s what I want to do. So with education, the one thing I want and that I can tangibly work to do is through the Alaska Performance Scholarships. They took three years to get that through, but that created an opportunity for you to earn a scholarship for college or for a job training program. So the one thing I want to do with education funding and education policy is to create more opportunity. The opportunity for post-secondary education, more opportunity for better jobs for you and for your peers. That’s what it comes down to.
Q. How do you feel about charter schools in Alaska? Should we have more or less?
A. I actually helped pass the charter school law in Alaska, so I was a strong supporter of the charter school movement. In the ’90s I helped get them established. I love additional choices for parents in the education of their children.
Q. What’s it like living in the Alaska Governor’s Mansion in Juneau?
A. (laughs) It’s pretty neat. It’s such a treasure of a house that really does belong to the people. We try to open it up as much as we can. So for example at Christmas and during the holiday season we have an open house and invite everybody in Juneau to come. We usually have 3,500 or 4,000 who come through the house in about four hours time. It’s quite a madhouse. But it’s pretty fun. It’s drafty — there’s no insulation. But it really is a wonderful house. You can stand in the bathroom and curtains are swaying because the wind is blowing. It was built before insulation was used. It really is a working house. The hardest thing to get used to is that other people actually work there. It’s not really your home, but they do work hard to make a portion of the house feel like home. You just have to get used to hearing doors and people talking downstairs in the main floor of the house.
Q. What was your incentive to make stopping abuse and violence in Alaska your main goal?
A. I think seeing it firsthand when I was an Alaska State Representative. I had not seen or experienced domestic violence in my home growing up. When I was a young legislator, I went on ride-alongs with the police officers in Anchorage where I’d served and lived. I saw that about 70 percent of their calls, every night — it didn’t matter which neighborhood you rode in — rich and poor, middle class, it didn’t matter. And it was seeing the women and children huddled in the basement or the closet with the phone, shaking. It was seeing them huddled in the driveway.
It was seeing the devastation of our families firsthand while riding with officers, that was what triggered the desire.
Q. What’s the most important thing kids in Alaska can do to stop violence and abuse?
A. Recognize that they are people of value and that their peers also have value and worth as human beings; respect themselves and respect others for that reason.
It’s really that simple and that hard.
If you believe the lies in your head that you’re no good or that you’re ugly, and if you believe those kinds of lies then you don’t treat yourself with the respect that you deserve. If you believe somebody else looks different or is somehow of lesser value than you, then you don’t respect them and don’t treat them with respect.
I think that those are some of the needed principles. Understand that kids are valuable as human beings, and everybody else is, too. Treat each other with respect. It sounds so abstract, but it comes down to that. If you respect yourself, you’ll take care of yourself; if you respect others then you’ll take care of them too, and you’ll treat them like the human beings that they are.