PUBLISHED: 4:00 PM on Wednesday, January 16, 2008
State Farm supports 'Smart Choices' of teens and Central Council of Tlingit and Haida
Teens in Juneau, Alaska will get more support to stay in school from their peers, community, and business leaders, thanks to a State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant. More than 1 million American high school students quit high school each year, and Juneau is no exception.

To combat Juneau's alarming high school dropout rate, State Farm Agent Reuben Willis presented a $1,500 State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant check to the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Central Council) to help establish "The Smart Choices Society." Central Council President Bill Martin and Economic Development Intern Kyle Duncan accepted the grant Jan. 10, in the Andrew Hope Facility.

"The Smart Choices Society" is designed to encourage students in Juneau-Douglas High School to stay in school, graduate, and continue toward future life success.

"The Smart Choices Society will reward students who make smart decisions and work to improve their grades," said Central Council Economic Development Intern Kyle Duncan.

Photo by Naomi Judd
  Carrie Sykes of the Tlingit and Haida Central Council, left, and State Farm agent Reubn Willis, right, presented the State Farm Good Neighbor Citizenship Grant to Economic Development Intern Kyle Duncan on Thursday January 10th, 2008.
A former high school drop-out himself, Duncan's concern and idea for the Society came from his experience and a desire to help more students graduate from Juneau-Douglas High School, which estimates about 5 percent of its students dropout and a disappointingly higher, 9 percent of its Alaska Native students fail to graduate.

Juneau-Douglas' dropout rate aligns with a dangerous statewide and national crisis that continues to climb.

Alaska has seven high schools recently labeled "dropout factories" by a John Hopkins University study for the Associated Press - schools where less than 60 percent of the students who start as freshman fail to graduate. Alaska Governor Sarah Palin herself is reaching out to any high school student in the state considering dropping out, urging students to contact her to discuss alternatives.

"It's critical that we break the drop-out cycle," says Central Council President Bill Martin.

"Today's tribal youth are tomorrow's future leaders. With The Smart Choices Society we will continue to support tribal youth education and increase leadership skills needed for our youth to succeed, strengthening future generations."

As coordinator of "The Smart Choices Society," 16-year-old Kyle Duncan will be a peer mentor to members.

"As a youth, I know, if teens are rewarded for their smart decisions, they'll continue to make good decisions," Duncan says. "Having the chance to meet, face-to-face with successful adults, local business and community leaders will motivate people like me to stay in school and improve their scholastic skills."

In testament to his message and goals, Duncan recently received his G.E.D. (high school equivalency), works at the Central Council, and has just been accepted to University of Alaska Southeast.