This July 2019 photo shows some of over 2,000 backpacks that were given away to students throughout Southeast Alaska through Tlingit and Haida’s Temporary Assistance For Needy Families Department. This year in order to help accommodate virtual learning, when backpacks are distributed, they will come with Google Chromebooks. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

This July 2019 photo shows some of over 2,000 backpacks that were given away to students throughout Southeast Alaska through Tlingit and Haida’s Temporary Assistance For Needy Families Department. This year in order to help accommodate virtual learning, when backpacks are distributed, they will come with Google Chromebooks. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Back to school backpack program goes high tech

The program has adapted to distanced learning as coronavirus shows no signs of slowing.

Every year, the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska distributes backpacks with school supplies to Alaska Native and American Indian students in Southeast Alaska.

But as the coronavirus continues to sweep the country virtually unimpeded, Tlingit and Haida’s Temporary Assistance For Needy Families Department, which administers the program, is handling things a little differently.

“For many many years, Tlingit and Haida has held Back to School Backpacks and school supply events to really encourage the importance of school and education,” said Jesse Parr, manager of the TANF Department, in a phone interview. “This is a completely different year with the world we’re living in. It’s definitely challenging. With that in mind, to try to help families out, we’ve got some of the CARES Act funding to get Chromebooks.”

Tlingit and Haida will distribute 2,330 Chromebooks to 21 communities across Southeast Alaska, beginning at the end of July. The deadline for applications is Friday, July 17.

“We are doing Chromebooks and backpacks. Traditionally, we did backpacks from all age categories from Head Start to 12th grade,” said program manager Julie Chapman in a phone interview. “After the students had to distance learn beginning in March-April, we decided that we would supply Chromebooks. We had to run it through the management and ultimately it was approved by the president (and executive management) of Tlingit and Haida.”

State reports nearly 50 new coronavirus cases

The total for the Chromebooks came in at just under $700,000, said Parr. The computers themselves have been ordered and are on their way, Chapman said. The intent is to get the hardware mated up with backpacks and distributed to the applicants.

“We are waiting and hoping we get these before the end of July which is when we are going to distribute these,” Chapman said. “Normally, we distribute in one day but because of COVID we’re doing it over a whole week.”

In Juneau in 2018, there were 1,017 applicants, said Parr. In 2019, there were 1,046. The other 20 communities around the Southeast account for the remaining 1,000 or so. Sitka, Metlakatla and Ketchikan are mostly not included under the program, Parr said, as they have local organizations that handle school supply programs.

“I’ve been with the program for 10 years. It was in place when I joined the department in 2010,” Chapman said. “Normally it takes all summer to get this ordered and organized. It’s a labor of love all summer long.”

The Back to School Backpack Program began in 2004, Chapman said. Any Alaska Native or American Indian child in the service area is eligible.

“Head start up until 12th grade, whether they’re in public school or home-schooled. As long as they’re enrolled,” Chapman said. “The parent or legal guardian can apply for them.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or lockett@juneauempire.com.

Want to apply?

Check out Tlingit and Haida’s Facebook for more information and for the application link. The Juneau community contact phone number is 463-7158. The email is 477tanf@ccthita-nsn.gov.

More in News

Even as coronavirus numbers are going down and vaccines are being distributed, pandemic-related facilities like the testing site at Juneau International Airport, seen here in this Oct. 12 file photo, are scheduled to remain for some time, according to city health officials. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file)
Vaccines are coming, but pandemic facilities will remain

Testing sites and other COVID-19 operations will continue, officials say, but infections are trending down.

After violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol today, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, left, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., join other senators as they return to the House chamber to continue the joint session of the House and Senate and count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Murkowski on impeachment: ‘I will listen carefully’ to both sides

As for timing, the senator said, “our priority this week must be to ensure safety in Washington, D.C.”

Juneau City Hall. The City and Borough of Juneau has distributed nearly $5 million in household and individual assistance grants since October. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
All housing and most personal assistance grants processed

About $5 million in aid is flowing to households and individuals in Juneau.

A child plays at Capital School Park. The park is in line for a remodel that will fix the crumbling retaining wall, visible in the background. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
A new life is in store for Capital School Park

Public input is helping craft a vision for the park’s voter-approved facelift.

Expected heavy snow and high winds Thursday evening prompted Alaska’s Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to issue a warning of increased avalanche hazard along Thane Road. (File photo)
Avalanche risk increasing along Thane Road

Be careful and plan for the possibility of an extended road closure.

White House, tribes joined to deliver Alaska Native vaccines

The initiative has treated Indigenous tribes as sovereign governments and set aside special vaccine shipments.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Friday, Jan. 8

The most recent state and local numbers.

Federal report says pandemic hit seafood industry hard

Catch brought to the docks fell 29% over the course of the first seven months of the year.

The Juneau Police Department and other law enforcement agencies say they are prepared for the possibility of political violence at the Capitol building on the day of the presidential inauguration. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
No known threats of violence, but police say they’re prepared

“The Juneau Police Department and our partners have not received any specific threats,” the agency said.

Most Read