The UAA College of Education honored Paula Dybdahl Casperson with the 2012 William Demmert Leadership Award for her dedication to improving educational opportunities and environments for Alaska Native students.
The UAA College of Education established the William Demmert Leadership Award last year to recognize Alaskans for their significant contributions to the education of Alaska Natives through advocacy, teaching, practice and outreach programs. The award reflects the shared mission of Dr. William Demmert and the UAA College of Education to provide educational opportunities for Alaska Native students. Awards are based on work performed in the state of Alaska. Winners demonstrate excellence in vision, leadership, intellectual vitality, collaborative spirit, outreach and advocacy, and inclusiveness and equity.
Casperson displays her excellence and commitment to this mission by connecting students with each other and their cultural traditions to create a safe space for students to learn and grow. As she stated in a 2004 Teacher Talk article shortly after recieving her Principal Certification from the UAA College of Education and being appointed to assistant principal at Juneau-Douglas High School, “We are all entitled to participate in this community and we cannot tolerate a safety violation of any magnitude. Racism, bias and discrimination are safety violations. We pull fire alarms when fire is threatened and we evacuate the building when bomb threats are called in. We must present a united front with discrimination as well. As my first real foray into leadership, I call upon all of my colleagues, my Juneau community members and my students, to be proactive with this endeavor, not reactive.”
Casperson earned her B.A. in anthropology in 1995 and M.A. in education in 1996, both from Stanford. Her experience as a member of the Stanford American Indian Organization during this time helped shape her vision of a better learning environment for Alaska Native students. “[B]eing part of a smaller community within the larger university gave me academic support and provided me with diverse cultural activities to be involved in that promoted my sense of self and identity and allowed for me to have a safe space to retreat to with people who, although different from me tribally, shared many of the same beliefs, fears and aspirations,” she said.
As a high school teacher and assistant principal at Juneau-Douglas High School, Casperson has worked hard to create a similar community by providing students with unique experiences and social interactions. Extracurricular events she’s provided for her students include guided out-of-state college tours, attendance at in-state conferences, attendance at Toast Masters workshops, participation on the UAS campus, tutoring of middle school students, fundraisers and Tlingit language classes.
“Mrs. Dybdahl helped me prepare myself to set off into the new world, to explore new adventures,” one of her students said in the 2002 Juneau Teachers Association’s “Making a Difference” campaign.
Casperson, who is Raven Moiety and of the T’akdeintaan clan of the Hinyaa Kwaan of Klawock, accepted the award at the Alaska Association for Bilingual Education (AKABE) luncheon, part of the 38th Annual Bilingual Multicultural Education Equity Conference (BMEEC), on April 27.