In October 2019, CRS conducted an outreach presentation at a “gathering of principals” meeting at Anchorage School District headquarters. Following the presentation, South Anchorage High School administrators expressed interest in implementing the School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) program to teach students about conflict resolution and help prevent bias incidents and hate crimes at the school.
CRS received reports of widespread alleged bias incidents and racial conflict, including the use of racial slurs and student-on-student assaults, particularly against Latino, Black, and multiracial students in several Anchorage schools. Community members alleged that the racial conflict was a reaction to a recent influx of immigrants and refugees. The Greater Anchorage area is one of the most diverse in the country, with more than 100 languages spoken within its student population.3 This demographic shift heightened the ongoing and growing tensions that were negatively impacting the Anchorage School District.
CRS convened local school stakeholders to plan the School-SPIRIT program for South Anchorage High School, the first school in the state’s history to implement the program. CRS provided training to eight volunteer facilitators from the Alaska Native Justice Center, Bridge Builders of Anchorage, Polynesian Association of Alaska, Victims for Justice, and a local faith community and local non-governmental organization.
In February 2020, CRS facilitated the program over two days for approximately 90 Black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, white, Latino, and multiracial student leaders in grades nine through 12. A representative from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska attended the program to observe and assist, as necessary. For the first session, participants divided into five groups to identify the school’s strengths and areas of concern, which included the widespread use of racial and ethnic slurs and bullying, reportedly without consequence, and a lack of focus on mental health.
On the second day of the program, South Anchorage High School leadership introduced a newly created SPIRIT council of students who committed to support implementing several of the solutions developed by student leaders in the small group sessions that day. Proposed solutions included raising awareness about resources for bullying prevention, conflict resolution and diversity training for teachers, and more opportunities for open dialogue in a safe and welcome environment.
After the program, student leaders expressed their gratitude toward the school administrators for bringing the program to their school to undertake difficult conversations as a unified school community. The SPIRIT council found the process valuable in addressing racial conflict and recommended that other schools in the district consider conducting the program.
A few days after the program, the SPIRIT council received an invitation to present their experience and involvement in the process to Anchorage School District leadership. Participation in CRS’s School-SPIRIT program helped South Anchorage High and other schools in Anchorage build the capacity to address similar conflicts and prevent the possible spread of bias incidents on their campuses.