SchoolAccess in Action

Empowering Learning with Technology

Check out these exciting stories about SchoolAccess in action. It's all about what inspires us every day – SchoolAccess in action, bringing the latest technology and education content to schools and libraries to help make all kinds of new learning and teaching happen!

Alaska Academic Decathlon

GCI supports the Alaska Academic Decathlon, a statewide all-academic competition for high school students. This unique program allows students with an A, B, or C grade point average to compete against their peers for scholarships. The GCI Alaska Academic Decathlon awards scholarships to the top three individual students in each category of Honor, Scholastic, and Varsity.

Additional scholarships are made available from Rural Alaska Honors Institute, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Pacific University, DeVry, and other educational institutes. The team that wins the state competition is eligible to represent Alaska at the United States Academic Decathlon National Competition held each April. The Sponsors of the GCI Alaska Academic Decathlon provide travel and accommodations for the National Competition.

"It is with great pleasure that I write to thank GCI for its support of USAD. Your contribution of live streaming the events during our National Competition was a great success. Our schools and families that were unable to attend the event had the opportunity to see their student(s) in person. Without GCI this would not have happened! USAD also appreciates GCI's representation on the USAD Board. Pam Lloyd has been an extremely valuable member serving as a Corporate Board Member of USAD. It is a great pleasure working with Pam. USAD looks forward to a continued partnership with GCI."
- Les Martisko, Ph.D., CEO, United States Academic Decathlon

Skiku Teaches Kids Cross-Country Skiing and Biathlon

Olympian Lars Flora had a dream - to promote healthy lifestyles through his passion, cross country skiing. Lars approached NANA, the Native corporation from northwest Alaska, with the idea of creating a sustainable ski program for both adults and children. With eight months of snow, much of rural Alaska is the perfect environment to start in the fall and ski until the long days of spring.

With the help of sponsors including NANA and GCI, the program brings teams of coaches and bundles of skis, boots and poles to remote villages. The coaches spend five days working with students out of the schools during gym classes and after school. The equipment is donated to schools so the program can continue year around.

From NANANordic to Skiku

The program began as NANANordic with four NANA villages in 2012 and expanded statewide under a new name, Skiku, by 2014. The Skiku name is derived from siku and ciku, the Iñupiaq and Yupik words for ice. In March and April, 3,000 students all over Alaska from Nome to Gambell, Mountain Village, Shishmaref, Aniak, Barrow and Anaktuvuk Pass—27 total villages in all, have been able to see the world on skis while enjoying the outdoors.

“It is exciting to see what Skiku is doing with kids in Alaska. The growth is phenomenal and we’re thrilled to be a part of it,” said GCI SchoolAccess’ Senior Director Dr. Pam Lloyd. “Skiku is empowering these kids with the tools for a healthy lifestyle.”

GCI has been a partner from the beginning. Skiku’s 80 coaches are able to communicate with each other even in the most remote villages thanks to GCI’s wireless coverage, which ensures smooth operations and safety for the program.

"NANANordic has been a tremendous opportunity for our volunteers, the students of Northwest Arctic, NANA, and myself. GCI SchoolAccess makes it possible for our coaches and volunteers to communicate in the villages and most importantly make sure the students are safe by providing our coaches with mobile technology in the villages. The experience of visiting an Alaskan Village is one of kind and the opportunity to learn about a different culture has been amazing. Our entire volunteers ski all over the world and the experience of working with the students in the village is one of the highlights of year!"
- Lars Flora, Director of Skiku/NANANordic


FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a robotics program for 9 to 16 year olds (9 to 14 in the US and Canada), which is designed to get children excited about science and technology -- and teach them valuable employment and life skills. Teams, comprised of up to ten children with at least one adult coach, can also be associated with a pre-existing club or organization, homeschooled, or just be a group of friends who wish to do something awesome.

FLL Introduces younger students to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface. FLL teams, guided by their imaginations and adult coaches, discover exciting career possibilities and, through the process, learn to make positive contributions to society.

Through the use of video conferencing technology, SchoolAccess connects students in village schools to the FIRST LEGO League Challenge site on tournament day. SchoolAccess provides bandwidth and video conferencing equipment that allows students to run their robots on the playing surface in their school and to be judged by the tournament judges. Scores are entered, and remote students compete for the same prizes as the local teams. Teams also deliver their Challenge project and design presentation to the judges at the Challenge site just like the local teams.

Student Quotes from Schroedinger's Hat Team

"Thank you for your incredibly generous donations both to our team and to FIRST in Alaska. Going to Worlds this year was such a great experience, and it was wonderful to get to see some of the teams that we met at Super-Regionals this year. I’ll never forget the people I met, and the friendships I made there."
- Colleen

"Thank you so much, both for supporting FIRST in Alaska and for sponsoring our team! The trip to Worlds was absolutely amazing—it was so much fun to see teams who we had met at past tournaments, as well as getting to make so many new friends."
- Katie

"Thank you for this amazing donation to FIRST in Alaska and to our team. Going to Worlds was such an amazing experience. I got to meet new teams as well as seeing some old friends from past teams we have meet. I also got to see what my birth state is like. Thank you so much for helping us get there."
- Emily

"Thank you for your generous contribution to our team. Your donations to FIRST in Alaska and our team really helped us get to St. Louis. The world competition was awesome and it was fun to meet all the other teams and their robots."
- Eli

"Thank you so much for your amazing contribution to the team! It was an amazing opportunity to go to the world championship. It was awesome to meet old friends as well as make new friends. Thank you for the opportunity you have helped give us!"
- Andrew

LKSD Makes History with AdvancED Systems Accreditation 

AdvancED Systems Accreditation is a highly regarded achievement in education and the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) recently made history by becoming the first school district to receive systems accreditation in Alaska. AdvancED is the global leader in providing continuous improvement and accreditation services to more than 32,000 institutions worldwide. LKSD earned accreditation because of the following three areas of practice.

1) Commitment to Vision and Mission

The review team recognized the school board and school district’s commitment to its vision and mission, both of which ensure an education for all students that is bilingual, culturally appropriate and effective. The majority of people in Southwest Alaska are Yup’ik and Cup’ig and the district has many programs that demonstrate respect and celebration for local Alaska Native culture.

2) State of the Art Technology Infrastructure

Additionally, the team of accreditors noted that LKSD had a very impressive state-of-the-art technology infrastructure that supports a variety of online instructional platforms and links a system of 28 schools in a rural geographical area that spans 22,000 square miles. LKSD is about as remote as school districts come. Its 23 communities are spread throughout Southwest Alaska with access only by plane. With such a large terrain to cover, ensuring quality education is challenging. But in partnership with GCI SchoolAccess, LKSD implemented the state’s largest distance education program through video conferencing. How does it work? Each student has direct access to the teaching studio in Bethel and other schools within the district so that regardless of location, students receive instruction from highly qualified teachers in math, science, Alaska native languages and more. This has the ability to transform lives by giving all students equal opportunity. It is also helpful that the schools are able to share resources across the district.

LKSD also offers extensive professional development for staff members throughout the year over their distance learning network. These include interactive, live and recorded sessions that originate out of the district office teaching studios presented by content area specialist from the district.

Members of the External Review team observed several students in village schools using laptop computers for distance learning and had an opportunity to experience the power of the video-conferencing component during interviews with principals, staff and community members of village schools. Video conference and online classroom features are used to create cross-district virtual classrooms for single subjects in cases where a critical student mass is not available to populate classes in village settings.

3) Employee Recruitment and Retention

Finally, LKSD has developed and implemented an effective employee recruitment and retention process that has resulted in one of the lowest turnover rates among all rural Alaska school systems. According to the district, they focus on states with effective teacher preparation programs that offer less competitive salaries and benefits. LKSD offers competitive salaries, district housing at modest rental rates, an attractive benefit package, extensive in-house professional development opportunities, which include advanced study through partnerships with post-secondary institutions such as the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the lure of living and working in Alaska.

It is an incredible honor for LKSD to receive accreditation and is a testament to the hard work of the entire school district. Superintendent Dan Walker said the district wanted systems accreditation to have outside perspective on how the district was doing and prove that a district in rural Alaska the size of West Virginia could compete with other districts in the United States.

Sitka Fine Arts Camp Exposes Students to Rich Art and Culture with Hands on Instruction and Access to Broadband 

For more than 40 years, the Sitka Fine Arts Camp has been bringing together students and adults from all over the world to learn about and practice music, dance, theater, painting, pottery, photography and writing, to name a few. The camp is taught by a diverse group of artists who come together to teach, collaborate and model what it means to be successful professionals in their fields. The camp operates like a college with students signing up to attend five classes each day, often opening their eyes to the arts for the first time.

“I like different music than the people do at home. And I can’t really talk musically with them. I can’t talk about how amazing Bach is or Tchaikovsky, or that kind of stuff. I want to study performance - then I’d want to become a music teacher in a rural village. There are kids out there who would feel a connection with music, but they live in a rural village, so they’d never know,” said Allie Ivanoff, 14 year old Unalakleet resident and camp attendee.

This past year 784 students from 45 Alaskan villages, 20 states and three countries attended camp in Sitka, a remote Alaskan village off the road system. Even in state campers typically travel 500 to 1000 miles by float plane, jet, ferry or mail boat to come to camp. Studying in rural Alaska presents an opportunity for students to really embrace the arts without distraction. However, as the camp has grown and expanded over the years, so has the desire to provide more opportunities and access to materials through broadband. Organizers realized that adding connectivity would be essential to growing the program and giving students access to a truly immersive, multidisciplinary arts curriculum.

“Access is critical to our kids, “said Roger Schmidt, director of Sitka Fine Arts Camp. “Broadband Internet is a powerful learning tool. Many of the kids at camp have never been exposed to the rich art and culture we are teaching and having a strong mental image of what you are trying to accomplish is essential to learning.”

This year the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, with the help of a donation from GCI SchoolAccess, was able to provide high-speed broadband to its students to supplement teaching. For example, a broadband connection would allow a theater teacher to immediately play a scene from a Shakespeare play to give students a visual example to emulate or play a composition by Bach.

“The arts have an amazing ability to help kids take healthy risks and push them in self-expression,” said Schmidt. “Especially in Alaska, many students don’t have the opportunities to be involved with high quality arts in their villages.”

But the Sitka Fine Arts camp is helping expose kids to these types of opportunities where they can build permanent skills like empathy, collaboration and communication. And organizers have been successful. Most campers return. This year the camp had 755 years worth of attendance on campus based on the total number of years each camper has attended the Sitka Fine Arts camp.

North River Salmon Project

In September 2010, Bering Strait School District (BSSD) teacher Ann Marie Stone and her students broadcasted their last episode of this year's North Salmon River Project (NSRP). This series of virtual field trips provided students with an interactive learning experience centered around the prolific life cycle of salmon in the Unalakleet River.

The NSRP brought together students from five BSSD schools (Diomede, Koyuk, Elim, Teller, and Shishmaref) as well as over 1,500 students in 18 schools in Australia using video conferencing provided by SchoolAccess.

Native Youth Olympics

For more than 35 years, the Native Youth Olympics have offered youth a chance to pay tribute to the rich cultural heritage of Alaska through a series of competitive events that test the mind and body. Open to all students from 7th to 12th grade, regardless of ethnicity, the competition includes more than 69 participating schools.

For the past nine years, SchoolAccess has teamed up with the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) Student Broadcasting Team to provide connectivity and support services. Using video interviews, blog entries, posted images, and game results, the Student Broadcasting Team is able to provide in-depth coverage of the games. And the best part is it's all produced by the students.

Alaska Students Get Face Time with Alaska Senators

Students throughout Alaska had the opportunity to ask questions to Senator Lisa Murkowski face-to-face via video conferencing using SchoolAccess Distance Learning Service. For the second year running, SchoolAccess teamed with the Alaska Distance Learning Partnership to offer this educational enrichment opportunity for students to practice civic-mindedness, while giving them direct access to their legislator in Washington, D.C. It also provided a chance for Senator Murkowski to address the questions and concerns of some of her youngest constituents.

Great Barrier Reef

The Kodiak Island Borough School District is 6,213 miles from Australia's Great Barrier Reef. But for a few hours recently, modern technology reduced that gap to essentially zero, giving students in the remote Alaskan borough a first-hand glimpse of the world's largest coral reef.

Students were able to make that trip with the help of a high-speed video-conferencing system deployed by GCI, an Anchorage-based telecommunications provider. The system, called GCI School Access, is specifically designed to help students in far-flung Alaskan schools gain access to new educational opportunities.

In the case of the Great Barrier Reef tour, the Kodiak Island Borough School District worked with the Alaska Society for Technology in Education to make the connection with their Australian counterparts. About 180 students from eight Alaskan school districts participated in the tour.

Divers in Australia used digital video cameras to send a live stream of their dive into two tanks that re-create conditions on the Great Barrier Reef. After a brief talk from one of the divers, the students first saw up close how coral forms and offers shelter to other sea creatures. Next, the diver entered a shark tank, which contained several representatives of the scores of shark species that inhabit the reef.

"The kids were just blown away," says Phillip Johnson, a principal and teacher with the Kodiak district. "We had incredible video quality, and it was as if the kids were right there."

Johnson says that GCI SchoolAccess provides a great resource. "It's great to be able to offer things like this to students in rural areas," he says. "Otherwise, they wouldn't have an opportunity to see these places. It really opens up the world."

GCI School Access also allows the Kodiak students to share their own experiences. They've shown virtual archery, dog sled demonstrations, and fish-smoking techniques – all part of a rural Alaska lifestyle. "It creates value for the children by showing that their lifestyle isn't less than anyone else's – it's wonderful and beautiful and appreciated," says Johnson. "They can also share commonalities with others, learning culture, empathy and tolerance, and learning to respect and understand other cultures."

  • "Our goals are never about the technology, but about instruction using technology in a variety of ways. GCI has been flexible and responsive enough to support our instructional integration as we have grown and changed as an organization."

    - John Concilus, Director of Educational Technology, Bering Strait School District