Sign up for Story Lab here!


The Sitka Story Lab is a place where young Sitkan writers ages 7-19 can tell their stories, practice their writing skills, and unleash their imaginations. Our programs are free of charge and open to everyone. We believe that storytelling is an essential art form. It builds confidence, sharpens skills, and strengthens interpersonal connections. We work to empower youth to be innovative thinkers, and to express themselves with clarity, purpose, and imagination. Ultimately, Story Lab students will be better equipped to help their communities creatively adapt to change and thrive in turbulent times—our definition of "resilience."

To accomplish these goals, we sponsor after school sessions, weekend and evening workshops, and special weeklong sessions. We also work in close partnership with schools in Sitka, supporting teachers who want to expand writing and enrichment opportunities for their students. Our programs are run by Island Institute staffers and supported by volunteer writers, artists, storytellers, teachers, dreamers, thinkers, and doers in the Sitka area. We also benefit from the expertise of established and emerging artists who pass through the Island Institute’s various residency programs each year. Eventually, we hope that no student will be able to pass through the schools in Sitka without interacting with our Story Lab.


Click to sign up for Story Lab

The Island Institute's Sitka Story Lab program released this new book of Southeast Alaskan student writing in May 2016.
Called Where Am I?: Stories of Strange Landscapes, Wrong Turns, and New Worlds, the anthology features fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and zany creative experiments that convey the disorientation and the discovery that young people experience, from being in the wilderness to simply growing up. The young writers come from Sitka, Hoonah, Haines, Wrangell, and Skagway, and are as young as nine years old and as old as eighteen.
"The writing ranges from fantastic and playful to emotionally moving and dark," said Story Lab Coordinator Sarah Swong. "I'm impressed at how creative and varied these writings are, and at how open students were to feedback and improving their work."
The project offered students the chance to write a piece for publication and to hone their writing with an editor. 

Visit here to see occasional posts, newsletters, and updates from our Story Lab team. 

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Our after-school classes don’t feel like school. Our in-school classes are more school-y, but no less fun. Fun doesn’t necessarily mean easy. If you’re committed to really work hard, we’ll offer you the chance to publish what you write in a zine, a pamphlet, or a real live book.  If you’ve got a story that’s better told out loud, we’ll create opportunities for you to tell it in front of an audience. If you’re already working on some writing and you’d like the chance to push yourself and get feedback on your work, we’re here to help.

We’ve designed our program to make it possible for students from all of Sitka’s schools to participate. You’ll get the chance to work with and learn from friends you already have, and also from people you may have never met. Our Story Lab coordinator and our volunteers offer their time to help you with your projects big and small. The Story Lab is also committed to supporting schools and educators with their story and writing-related projects.

Make up a ghost story and tell it around a fire. Make an inkblot and write about what you see. Think of the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you, practice telling it with wild gestures and dramatic intonation, and take your first stab at stand-up comedy. Put your fictional characters in situations you never thought they’d be in (climbing a windmill? locked in a church at night? discovering that they’re adopted?) and watch your story unfold.


Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm
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Interested in volunteering for the Story Lab? We’d love to have you! We welcome absolutely everyone—whether you’re a published author or not sure that you can consistently spell the word “weird” (wierd? wiard? wouordu?). Our volunteers fill a variety of roles and there’s a place for everyone. Here’s a sample of what you might do:

Assist or teach after-school: We’ll often need adult helpers to make our after-school classes run smoothly. You might be serving as a space cadet captain for a lesson on extraterrestrial exploration with our Tuesday class for elementary school students, or helping read over autobiographical stories with our high school classes on Thursday. You might also be taking the lead on a class, if you’re able to commit to a regular volunteering schedule.

Help run a workshop: Similarly, we need hands to help make our workshops a success. You might proofread an essay at one of our College Essay Boot camps or help use our bookmaking gear to bind a book of newly-written Mad Libs.

Teach a workshop: Can you teach a great lesson on songwriting? Journalism? How to tell a story through cooking? We want to hear from you. You’d work with Jenna, our Story Lab coordinator, to put together your class, then teach it to a roomful of eager students.

Email Jenna at , call 907-747-3794, or drop by if you'd like to lend a hand.

Are you a teacher looking to offer extra creative writing opportunities for your students? A principal or other administrator looking to create an after school or elective class? A volunteer offering a writing-based program for youth in Sitka? We want to hear from you. The Story Lab works best in close partnership with all of the other storytelling and writing opportunities going on around town. We’re hoping that people who believe in the importance of youth storytelling can use the Story Lab as a platform to build upon.

Thus far, we’ve been engaged in a variety of projects at schools in Sitka. During the 2014/2015 school year, we offered a Friday elective writers group at Pacific High. We teamed up with two sixth grade language arts classes at Blatchley to offer support as they worked on their story submissions for the Alaska Day Writing Contest. We taught screenwriting to Blatchley seventh graders and memoir writing to gifted and talented 4th and 5th graders at Keet Gooshi Heen. 

We've also partnered with many other organizations around town. We ran a partner program on podcasting and interviewing with Kettleson Memorial Library and Raven Radio (Radio+Food), sponsored a session on song writing and gender dynamics as part of a program run by Sitkans Against Family Violence, and, alongside the Sitka Native Education Program, co-ran a break-out session for kids at the Sitka MAPP Community Health Summit. 

We’re always looking for more connections and projects. Please contact our Story Lab coordinator Sarah Swong at or 907-747-3794 to talk about the possibilities!

Our classes and workshops are held in the Island Institute offices at 304 Baranof Street. Students from Keet Gooshi Heen can take bus D to our offices, and Blatchley students can take bus B. Our general after school schedule is as follows:

  1. 2nd-5th graders: Every other Tuesday, 3-4:30 pm, beginning September 20th
  2. 6th-8th graders: Every Wednesday, 3:30-5 pm, beginning September 21st.
  3. 9th-12th graders: Every Thursday, 3:45-5:15pm, beginning September 22nd.

Check our current schedule page for the most up to date information.

If you’re a person between the ages of 7 and 19 (or the parent/guardian of such a person), you’re in luck! Signing up is easy, and our classes are FREE. There are four ways to register for Story Lab classes and events:

1)    Email our Story Lab Coordinator, Zachary Desmond, to get your name on the list —

2)    Call us at 907-747-3794.

3)    Just show up and register in-person! We’re always happy to see new faces.

4)    Or use this form:



 We may ask you to occasionally bring in some item or other from home to help make things work (a pen, for example), but if you forget, we’ll have extras.

Our after-school classes are located in the Island Institute offices at 304 Baranof Street, across from Baranof Elementary School and nearby Market Center. Students at Blatchley, Keet Gooshi Heen, and Mt. Edgecumbe can catch buses or vans from their schools to get to our programs. Bus D comes from Keet Gooshi Heen, and Bus B comes from Blatchley Middle School. Mt. Edgecumbe students can arrange for a van to drop them nearby our offices.

Story Lab publishes anthologies of student writing using the Island Institute's bookmaking equipment. 

We're also looking to share our equipment with teachers, schools, and organizations that are interested in publishing student work. Got a publishing project that you think might work well with the Story Lab? Email Jenna Steckel at, or call 747-3794.

Our workshops are taught by our Story Lab coordinator, by our visiting writers in residence, and by volunteers from across the community. 

Got a suggestion for a workshop? Want to teach one? Email, or call 747-3794.