‘End of Year Celebrations in the Denali Borough School District’ by Principal Jeni Mason

Through new territories of learning and teaching, we must remember to celebrate all successes, even the little ones. Each community, parents and district’s staff, and students deserve an applause, gratitude, and appreciation, as well as a great big virtual hug. I’ve often said to colleagues (and I have been reminded by many) that the second semester just flies by. This year, with no exception, second semester flew by. This flight had a much different pattern, nonetheless, the end of the school year was still here in a flash.

Being one of several administrators in our district, we collectively realized that our ‘regular and normal’ school processes were completely topsy turvy, spun upside down, and spit out the window. I acknowledged that I was in need of a stable grounding, but all I could think of in those moments, which felt like months while in them, was the uncertainty of “How on earth am I going to take the leap to be vulnerable, brave, and not fear failure?” After shedding many tears of fear, just when I thought the idea of being a ‘nurturing, inspiring, and positively shaping’ leader would be completely thrown out the window, I realized, I wasn’t going to drown in my own fear of failure. Through self, hubby, and colleague reflection, the opposite was actually happening. My feet were sturdy under me. I just needed to regroup my poop. My mindset again turned into, “I got this,” and was reminded of and able to reference one of my favorite excerpt from Isaiah 43.19, “for I am about to do something new…”  

As a leadership team, we revisited our district’s mission statement and my attention snapped back to focusing on our district’s strategic plan. Our instructional leadership team spent time recalibrating our process surrounding the strategic plan, especially, our Denali Learning work plan that focuses on our personalized learning framework. I began to feel more confident in these uncharted waters of leadership during our COVID distance learning. Instead of tears of fear of not knowing what to do, I began to cry tears of joy in overcoming that anxiety of failure. This uplifted my confidence when faced with the uncharted waters of leadership during a crisis distance learning. 

From supporting teachers and helping them continue to keep children engaged, providing leadership focused on instruction through the end of the year, creatively thinking with others about how to wrap up the school year in a meaningful way for students and staff, and begin to think about our next school year, the mission remains the same- nurturing, empowering, and inspiring today’s student to positively shape tomorrow’s world.  

Each of our four schools are doing just that and we have celebrated our victories along the way. While our schools continue to focus on learning, we work even harder at ensuring that we stay in close contact with our families and staff for social/emotional well-being during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the year for students came to an end, our students were able to share their reflections on learning. Mid-year, each of our brick and mortar schools had invited the public into a Celebrations of Learning Event where students created a product representing their learning. When Anderson, Cantwell, and Tri-Valley students shifted to distance learning, we shifted Celebrations of Learning to Reflections on Learning for the end of the year, where students and staff viewed a collective, interactive product displaying student reflections.  

Denali PEAK Correspondence and Homeschool Program staff and families are strong pillars in leading a distance learning model. They continue to grow in ways to provide engaging and enriching connections with students and families beyond the face-to-face interactions. This year, Denali PEAK has had their largest number of graduates and staff created a video collage celebrating those seniors that wished to contribute to the video production, to represent their graduation ceremony. 

in 2020 Tri-Valley School celebrated their 50th year as a school.  The seniors, class advisor and principal created an event that would give honor to the seniors in a way that the community could still participate. The seniors set out their tables in the circular driveway and the community members were able to drive through and wish each senior a congratulations from their individual vehicles. After the community drive-through, Tri-Valley students, along with parents/family parked in designated spots inside the circular drive and two parking lots, were able to witness the first ever outdoor graduation ceremony at Tri-Valley School. What a way to celebrate each student and the school’s 50th year!   


Instead of the annual Anderson and Cantwell staff coming together for a shared meal the last week of school, the lead teacher from Anderson, and I brought the meals to the staff members. With full bellies, we all proceeded to drive to each and every Anderson School’s student grizzly’s house to wish them a farewell to the year and happy summer. The Anderson graduates requested their diplomas be mailed to them. However, we simply couldn’t accept that request as a celebration of their hard work and learning that they so deserved.  So, the graduation went on the road to each student’s house. Decorated vehicles, Anderson School staff with pom poms and signs at each of their vehicles, individual senior cakes, and even a folding table for displaying that hard-earned diploma, served as the backdrop. Near my vehicle, I was yelling at the top of my lungs, “Family and Friends, please help me in giving 15 rahs to our Anderson Grizzly Graduate.  Rah rah, rah rah rah.  Rah rah, rah rah rah.  Rah rah, rah rah rah. Grizzlies, Grizzlies, Go Grizzlies!” 

Seeing all of those students come outside and wave with big smiles on their faces, staff cars lined up eight deep honking and hollering as we drove through town and the highways going to every single Anderson Grizzly house was a great celebration!  

Two days later, Cantwell School had their graduation. Typically, Cantwell School is jammed packed with community members celebrating their seniors. Community is such an integral part of Cantwell School and Cantwell School is important to our community. We pulled off an EPIC day!  We were still able to have a one of a kind ceremony that Cantwell School has historically provided. This year’s ceremony included virtual speakers (both the welcome address and keynote), virtual band (our amazing music teacher and her family), recorded student speeches, and two seniors (Cantwell School’s only senior, as well as a PEAK graduating senior).  Immediately following the graduation ceremony, our local troopers blocked the Park’s Highway and community members lined the highway shoulders prepared with their premade signs for a sendoff of the seniors. Driving their vehicle of choice, the Cantwell Volunteer Fire Department’s firetrucks and ambulance was the lead of the parade for each senior to follow on the highway as the community members held their signs high, some threw glitter, and all whooping and hollering in celebration of the seniors.  

Reflecting on my own journey from the past few months, I truly embrace that fact that learning evolves and is never-ending. By trying to continue the same approach and processes that were routine and comfortable for me, I realized I was failing others, and that seeing that failure was the pivotal moment in my story. From there, I engulfed myself in our strategic plan with colleagues. I now look at it from the viewpoint that I can and will grow, to lead and encourage others to lead, in a way that will be nurturing, empowering, and inspiring!  

We are a team. Together we can do so much.