PALMER — The convergence of nearly 400 students and advisors from high schools around the state at Palmer High are determined to begin ‘Growing Together’ as the theme for the Fall 2019 Alaska Association of Student Government states.
AASG is a student-run organization of student governments throughout the state that meet twice a year for fall and spring conferences. An executive board of elected students serve as president and vice president, parliamentarian, Alaska School Activities Association and State Board of Education and Early Development Representatives and each of the six regions elects a representative for the AASG Executive Board. Adult advisors include Denise Green-Wilkinson, who serves as the AASG Executive Director and a steering committee made up of adult student government advisors from around the state that is chaired by Wasilla High teacher Anthony Jensen.
A total of 395 students and their advisors from 38 schools traveled to Palmer to learn and experience the community, but more importantly perform their own legislative session or ‘General Assembly’ to discuss and vote on bills on important issues to students. These resolutions may be as trivial as bathroom passes or off campus lunch or as impactful as the first resolution passed on Friday night at the Palmer AASG Conference supporting a Global Eco Corps under the United Nations.
“We actually do like, change things. We make a difference, so it’s not just a fun thing that people get together for, we actually get things done and are changing things,” Palmer High freshman delegate Elora Baker said.
Baker and classmates Madeline Ortiz and Arianna Gildersleeve were attending their first conference as host delegates from Palmer. The trio of freshmen are getting a first-hand look at what hosting nearly four hundred of your most politically active friends for a rousing and inspiring debate on the issues looks like while attending their first AASG conference. Before Baker, Ortiz and Gildersleeve ever set foot in Palmer High School, conference registrar Bailee Petersen had hatched a plan.
“We have a very ambitious student government crew of seniors in my class and when we all went to our first conference my sophomore year, we immediately fell in love with AASG and the whole purpose behind it and we loved the spirit that was where and we knew that we’d want to host,” Petersen said. “The whole heart of AASG is growing as people growing into leaders and trying to better our individual schools.”
Petersen came up with the theme of ‘Growing Together’ and has been instrumental in producing all of the different facets of the conference. Petersen had her experience at Palmer High altered by an AASG resolution that supported off campus lunches. Despite the triviality of being able to eat fast food instead of cafeteria food, Petersen said that the change has made a positive influence on student experience and accountability with grades. In between general assemblies, each of the six regions hold their own meeting to read, discuss, and take a position on resolutions. Students attending the conference will also participate in workshops and community explorations, taking students from around the state to the Musk Ox Farm, the Valley Center for Recycling Solutions and giving them a tour of historic downtown Palmer.
The agriculture theme doesn’t just look good on T-shirts, but local farm legends Don Berberich, a retired Palmer High agriculture teacher, and Palmer guidance counselor Jenny VanderWeele will be featured as keynote speakers. Students from around the state dined on a Palmer delicacy on Friday, feasting on VanderWeele potatoes donated by the Alaska Farm Bureau. The Army donated water bottles and lanyards for the conference, and the United Way and MTA also donated to help out with the massive undertaking of providing leadership opportunities to nearly 400 of the state’s most motivated youth.
While hosting an AASG conference in the past required an industrial printer to supply students with thousands of pages of resolutions and information, AASG converted to an app in the fall of 2015, supplying all of the information on resolutions, keynote speakers, the conference schedule, and a directory of the Executive board on delegates’ phones whilst saving paper. Contrary to the last to conferences hosted in Bethel and Skagway, Palmer’s conference gets a bump in participation by being on the road system.
“It’s even nicer that we’re on the road system. So region 3 usually has a big showing, but we’re coming this AASG,” Region 3 Representative Ashlee Schaeffer said. “It takes a huge feat from the entire community to pull of something off this huge and just the fact that they did it so flawlessly.”
Delegates at the spring conference elected North Pole’s Jake Wade to serve as president. Wade had served as Executive Board Parliamentarian the two previous conferences and presided over business meetings over the summer, but took the gavel for his first time in front of the AASG General Assembly on Friday night. Wade noted that AASG resolutions range from issues taking place in high schools to state, national and global political issues as well. As AASG President, Wade attended the National Association of Student Councils conference over the summer.
“Our state really is on top of student voice. In other states, their student government organizations are adult run. They have students in positions, but they’re more figure heads and it’s really unique that we have an organization that is entirely student run and that just aids the student voice so much more,” Wade said.
The first resolution to pass at the Palmer AASG Conference was written by Linnea Lentfer and Katie McKenna and passed the General Assembly unanimously.
“Therefore, be it resolved by the Alaska Association of Student Governments supports the initiative to create a Global Eco Corps under the United Nations,” read the resolution.
When not discussing issues ranging from high schools to global climate change, AASG delegates have the chance to hear and interact with local leaders such as Berberich, VanderWeele, Mat-Su Borough School District Superintendent Dr. Monica Goyette and Palmer Mayor Edna DeVries.. Senator Dan Sullivan will speak on Saturday and University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen.
“My favorite thing about AASG is that it is a student led conference and it gives so many of us an opportunity to basically practice government rules and personally, I want to go into politics.” Petersen said. “The unique thing about AASG is that we have students from every corner of Alaska and their voices are heard in a way that wouldn’t be possible without this conference because we’re all coming together to support each other.”