Tracy Kennedy-Jodwalis on being a counselor at America’s most culturally diverse high school

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This story was originally written for Crude Magazine.


Tracy Kennedy-Jodwalis’ office is a mix of comfort and clutter. Graduation announcements of past students cover the border of her window and tassels of East graduation caps line her wall like an art piece.

Tracy’s desire to help others stems from a job in retail so many years ago. When the Jay Jacobs in the Fifth Avenue mall opened, she was a manager working on her graduate degree. That job exposed her to all walks of life and people with the same struggles, like substance abuse and financial issues.

“I found myself being drawn to trying to help people,” Tracy tells me.

Tracy is entering her 25th year as a counselor at East High School. I sat down with her to talk about the diversity at her school and the concoction of cultures in Anchorage.


What about East do you think makes it the highest ranked high school in the country in diversity?

We have probably over 60 to 70 different cultures. People think, “What? How can you do it?” But there’s cultures within cultures. Yes, we have the Island Pacific, which means we have Samoan, Hawaiian, all different kinds. We have so many different cultures and languages spoken. It’s increasingly gotten more diverse as the years go on. Per capita, the white students are the minority.

How has that changed over time?

When I first got here, it was very important for the school officials to accept and grasp the diversity. We had workshops and stuff like that. Now, it’s just a norm. Originally, we really had to work to make it become comfortable with everybody, and now it’s just how it is.

What does a typical day in your job look like?

There’s no such thing. It’s what I think a fireman has to do, it’s just constantly putting out fires. You never know what’s going to come through your door. It can be anything from a student changing a schedule to a fight that’s happened to a teacher freaking out and throwing a chair. You never know.

How does your day compare to a counselor at a school with little or no diversity?

That’s hard for me to answer because I’ve never worked at a school that doesn’t have diversity. I believe that people are always going to be people, and kids are always going to be kids. However, I think that diversity makes it just a little more rich, and you have to be a little more savvy about what you’re dealing with. It’s not just dealing with the kid issues, but with the cultural or language issues. I’ve never done it, so I don’t know.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

When you see these kids outside after they’ve graduated, or out in the community, and they’re enjoying life and doing okay.
What are the challenges that come with working at a culturally diverse school?

It’s not just the diversity, our city has changed drastically. A lot of people don’t want to address that issue, a lot of people don’t want to. We are an inner-city school, in my opinion, and our teens right now have a much more difficult time and age to grow up in. Our city is now as close to an inner-city as Alaska has. We are compared to Bakersfield, California and Spokane, Washington. The issues in Anchorage include all the issues these sister cities have, such as gangs, crime waves, gun issues, etc.

Tell me about a specific instance when you saw diversity firsthand.

I see it every day, every hour. One incident I can share that happened recently was a ninth-grade student who was obviously new to East, but also new to Anchorage, was speaking to me when he noticed several young ladies walk by with Burqas on. He looked completely fascinated. He then said, “wow, I have never seen that in real life!”

Do you feel like this job has made you more understanding of people’s cultures?

Yes, of course, but not as a specialist by any means. Bottom line, kids are kids. What they bring with them such as their culture, language, past and current experiences, education, family of origin, etc. creates the whole picture of these amazing young people.

The Author

Hi! My name is Sam Davenport. I am a freelance writer and lifelong Alaskan who loves reporting on the state’s history, food and culture. I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where I received bachelors degrees in journalism and political science. I was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years During my time at UAA, I completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. I am the managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyper-local news blog and magazine for the neighborhood of Spenard. I have been published in Vice, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News, The Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business, The Northern Light, The Anchorage Press, The Frontiersman, Alaska’s Energy Desk, KSKA, KTOO, Last Frontier Magazine, Crude Magazine, Mountain View Post, The Spenardian, Alaska Contractor Magazine, Wildheart Magazine and True North Magazine. For freelancing rates or a copy of my resume, please email me at

1 Comment

  1. Shayla Urevich says

    My twins just started high school yesterday and I was telling them about my counselor (Tracy Kennedy) and how amazing she was and to let me know if she was still there so I could thank her. They suggested I check the East High directory. I did; then I checked the district directory and I couldn’t find her.

    Tracy, you probably won’t remember me from 23 years ago and you might not even see this, but thank you. I thank you more than probably anyone else in my life at that time (1992-1996). Mrs. David (orchestra) also deserves my thanks. You two were the main positive, influences (outside of a few amazing friend/peers) that ensured I made it through high school despite all of the things going on in my life at the time.


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