The Ketchikan School Board on Wednesday greeted this year’s group of students from Kanayama and Gero, Japan, visiting through the annual Kanayama Exchange Program.

The board also recognized Ketchikan’s first Native Youth Olympics team, which recently returned from a competition in Juneau; and congratulated the Ketchikan High School cheer squad, which just won the state championship.

The 10 Japanese students took turns introducing themselves to the board. The board welcomed the visiting students to Ketchikan, and gave gifts to each and their chaperones.

One chaperone told the board that she first came to Ketchikan as a visiting student. She returned to be the exchange teacher for a school year, and now she’s back as a chaperone and parent.

Each year, a teacher from Japan stays in Ketchikan to share the culture and language with local students. A Ketchikan teacher travels to Japan, as well.

Ole Sullivan, one of the exchange program organizers, told the board that a group of Ketchikan middle-school students will travel to Japan after school ends this coming spring.

Board President Matt Eisenhower spoke about the longstanding partnership between Ketchikan and Kanayama/Gero, which started in 1986.

“I think last year or maybe the year before, one of the things we joked about is that kids are kids,” he said. “You guys laugh at the same stuff our kids laugh at, and probably have the same goofy things that our kids do, and yet there’s so many things that we don’t know about each other and it presents and creates a culture in our middle school to understand that life is bigger than ourselves, life is bigger than our island and we’re better for that.”

Also Wednesday Starla Agoney introduced the three Ketchikan Native Youth Olympics team members: Sophie Agoney, Wilfred Agoney, and Jhasen Saludo. She said Native Youth Olympics is not a competition against other teams.

“It’s about competing with yourself. And improving yourself,” she said. “And all three of them were able to get their personal bests in all the events that they competed in.”  

Saludo, who is not Alaska Native, told the board that he learned a lot about Native culture while training for the competition. Wilfred Agoney said the best part of the competition was the support from other athletes.

“I’d tell the other guys that I just beat my personal best and they’d be like, ‘Oh, man. Great job.’ And if I couldn’t land something the first time, they’d give me pointers on how to land it and it helped a lot,” he said.  

The competition in Juneau was the first statewide Native Youth Olympics event held in Southeast. Starla Agoney said the Ketchikan team will travel for an Anchorage event coming up in late April.

Students from Metlakatla also participated in the Juneau event.

In other matters, the board heard from Interim Superintendent Beth Lougee that two finalists for the Ketchikan High School principal position will participate in a community meet-and-greet starting at 5 p.m. Friday at the Kayhi library.

The two finalists are Cole Maxwell and Jason House. Maxwell currently is the vice principal at Kayhi.

Also Wednesday, the board had a long discussion about the school district’s budget. We’ll have a later report on that discussion.