Students and teachers attending the Idaho Out-of-School Network conference in Fort Hall were asked to decorate puzzle pieces. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com
POCATELLO — An organization devoted to providing out-of-school programs for youth across Idaho held its first conference in eastern Idaho last week.
The Idaho Out-of-School Network held the conference at the Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel and offered workshops and professional training seminars in educational “enrichment” programs designed to help educators continue students’ learning outside of the classroom.
It also honored some of the local youths who have taken on a role in assisting such programs.
Wendy Wilson, ION Communications Coordinator, told EastIdahoNews.com that many of the network’s programs focus on STEM — Science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education. ION also focuses on things students don’t often learn in classrooms, like building social skills.
“We really want to celebrate the up-and-coming youth and all the educators in our network,” she said. “This is what they’re all about — helping kids fulfill their potential.”
Last week’s conference was ION’s first in-person event in three years. The decision to bring it to this region came after the successful launch of the Shoshone-Bannock Junior/Senior High School Think, Make, Create Lab, according to network director Anna Almerico.
Not only has Fort Hall’s ION-supported STEM lab, the second of what is now 25 statewide, been a success, Almerico says she had been especially impressed by the roles students have played. As she explained, one thing that has made the lab productive is that older students have openly offered their mentorship to younger students.
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Sunshine Perry is the K-12 STEM Education Coordinator at the Idaho National Laboratory and a Fort Hall Tribal member who was involved in constructing the TMC Lab.
Perry said opportunities like the ION conference are essential for students to further their education. But hosting the conference at Fort Hall and allowing native students to “see themselves within these programs” is especially important.
Students from smaller communities like Fort Hall and Blackfoot can get caught up in the idea that they are expected to get into trouble, she says, and be forced to alternative schools.
“We have to switch that dynamic, and I think these programs do that,” Perry said.
As part of the conference, two ShoBan High students were honored for their efforts in advancing local education.
Teagan Larkin and Annaleece Deluna, both seniors, have taken some of the STEM programs offered through the TMC Lab. And both have worked as interns at INL.
Deluna takes every opportunity she can to get hands-on experience in welding and automotive mechanics. She hopes to pursue a career in a technical trade at INL.
Larkin has a different goal.
“I actually plan on minoring in traditional parenting at Idaho State University and majoring in marketing,” she said.
She dreams of forming a nonprofit that reconnects indigenous students with their land and culture.
Teagan Larkin | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com
Larkin was ShoBan High School’s first “advanced opportunities” student, earning college credits from Idaho State University while studying geology at her school. She is also a teacher’s assistant in the school’s IEP (individualized education program) English class.
And in her free time — when she isn’t earning college credits or working at INL — the 17-year-old works with the American Indian Services. AIS is a Utah-based non-profit dedicated to helping educate indigenous students while preserving culture and heritage.
“Mental health and education have been my main concepts,” she said of her work with local youth. “I like to think that we are the seeds that our ancestors planted in prayer.”
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