Alaska Reporter Will Study Rural Education as 2nd Chronister Fellowship Recipient

By Mark Walsh — February 14, 2019 3 min read

A young journalist who has has studied geology, worked as a tourist guide on the Alaska Railroad, comes from a family of teachers, and now wants to report on the challenges of rural education is the recipient of the 2019 Education Week Gregory M. Chronister Journalism Fellowship.

Victoria Petersen, a 24-year-old native of Anchorage, Alaska, who now writes for the Peninsula Clarion, a newspaper covering the Kenai Peninsula on the Gulf of Alaska, was chosen as the second winner of the fellowship named for Chronister, the longtime executive editor of Education Week, who retired in 2017 after nearly 32 years with the news organization. Chronister also held jobs such as managing editor, associate editor, and commentary editor.

The fellowship program, announced in 2017, is open to early-career, mid-career, and veteran journalists. The recipient is expected to continue his or her regular employment, but receives financial support of as much as $10,000 for “a deeply reported investigative or enterprise package or series of stories spotlighting a pre-K-12 topic,” according to Editorial Projects in Education Inc., the publisher of Education Week.

The first fellowship recipient, Alex Granados of the North Carolina outlet EducationNC, published his report on migrant education, “Education, Unsettled,” in Education Week last November.

“I hope to report on issues like teacher retention in rural Alaska,” said Petersen in an interview.

In her application, Petersen wrote that Alaska “is home to the nation’s top three most-diverse schools, has one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation, has one of the nation’s highest rates of depression and suicide, and 75 percent of the state is off the road system. The state faces local problems, but also national issues that Alaskans have learned to deal with a little differently.”

Scott Montgomery, the editor-in-chief and chief content officer of Education Week and of EPE, said, “Victoria is the kind of journalist we created the Chronister Fellowship to support. She’s energetic, creative, and passionate about the importance of telling real stories about what’s working and not working in education. We’re excited to work with her in the year ahead.”

Petersen had applied for the first year of the fellowship, and though she was not chosen last year, she wrote a freelance article for Education Week last June about how rural districts in Alaska and elsewhere were struggling to serve the needs of gifted students.

Petersen says that Alaska attracts many teachers from out of state to serve in its rural villages, but many leave early because of feelings of isolation, a lack of belonging, or dissatisfaction within their community.

She also intends to explore issues such as cultural education. Many Alaska villages highlight Alaska Native food, culture, and art in their programs. That can include courses such as dog mushing and ulu, or knife, carving in many rural districts. And some offer fresh wild Alaska salmon for student lunches.

Petersen brings a deep understanding of Alaska to her current job as a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion, where she covers city government, education, and general news. She began working for the newspaper last June, even before she finished her degree in journalism and public communications from the University of Alaska, Anchorage, in December.

After initially studying geology in college, Petersen switched to journalism and worked various positions with the Northern Light student newspaper and interned with Alaska Public Media, the state’s public television and public radio affiliate.

But Petersen has also worked in a job that exposed her to some of the state’s traditions and natural beauty. Her high school had a program that encouraged students to become tour guides for the Alaska Railroad, whose main line runs from Seward north to Anchorage and then to Fairbanks.

The railroad is “super scenic,” said Petersen. “It’s an historic railroad, and tourists come from all over to see glaciers and Mount Denali.”

Petersen worked for the nearly 100-year-old railroad for six years. But it was her own love of writing and a family of teachers who sparked her interest in education journalism. (Two of Petersen’s grandparents and some of her cousins were or are teachers, and her father studied to be a teacher before being attracted to work in Alaska’s North Slope oil fields.)

Petersen now will train her focus on helping the nation gain a greater understanding of the challenges and possibilities of teaching and learning in Alaska’s vast rural landscape.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

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