Education Services to address student dropout rate

BY TESINA JACKSON
Reporter
12/22/2011 08:25 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation lost more than $500,000 in scholarship money after losing 318 CN scholarship recipients during the 2010-11 academic school year, the period for which the latest figures are available.

“We lost about 318 students between fall (20)10 and the end of spring (20)11,” Education Services Group Leader Dr. Neil Morton said. “Those students would average, because some are graduate students or part-time, they would average about $1,600 a piece. So we take 318 times $1,600 and that would be the actual loss. And we call it a loss because it is a loss to us unless the students transfer out of state or unless they drop out for a while and then come back and finish up their degree.”

In fall 2010, the tribe supplied scholarships to 2,732 students ranging from undergraduate freshman level to graduate school level. CN officials said the largest number of dropouts is at the freshman level, losing 185 freshmen during the 2010-11 year.

“Students have a difficult time managing their time when they enter college, and for most of them it’s their first time away from home, and it’s just a big step for that freshman student,” Morton said.

Education records show that 89 sophomores and 44 juniors who received CN scholarships dropped out during the 2010-11 academic year. Once the students become seniors, the dropout numbers are slim, Morton said.

Some CN scholarship funds come from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but most of it comes from tribal funds, Morton said. Once the student drops out, CN doesn’t get that money back.
“If the student drops out before the legal dropout period of the university, then we get the balance of funds returned,” Morton said. “Usually the student drops out after the second nine weeks, after the refund policy has already elapsed by the university.”
After conducting a phone survey of some of the scholarship recipients, Education Services found that the biggest reason for students dropping out was bad grades.
“The other reason that ranked high enough that it’s a concern of ours, they just didn’t turn in their papers for second semester, didn’t turn in their community service hours or forgot to send a transcript in and therefore did not receive funding,” Morton said.

Other reasons included students obtaining full-time employment and family illnesses and issues.

To address these issues and keep students in school, Education Services officials plan to assign a contact person to each scholarship recipient and will be visiting several universities throughout the spring 2012 semester.

“That will be a new service that we’re providing so that students who are scholarship students or students who are just interested in scholarships…there will be a person who they can talk to on a one-to-one basis,” Morton said. “And we are asking the universities that comprise the largest number of our enrollment in Oklahoma, their counseling centers to see if they can legally provide us documentation on the students’ progress. We would like to be a part of their intervention strategy.”

Morton anticipates that with the efforts that have been initiated the dropout rate will be significantly less.

“We think this needs to be a total effort on part of the Cherokee Nation and individual employees that know students that are in college to encourage them to stay because that first year is a social adjustment as well as an academic adjustment,” Morton said.

tesina-jackson@cherokee.org • 918-453-5000, ext. 6139

About the Author
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter.    

In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.
TESINA-JACKSON@cherokee.org • 918-453-5000 ext. 6139
Born in Dayton, Ohio, Tesina first started working as an intern for the Cherokee Phoenix after receiving the John Shurr Journalism Award in 2009. Later that year, Tesina received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., and in 2010 joined the Phoenix staff as a reporter. In 2006, Tesina received an internship at The Forum newspaper in Fargo, N.D., after attending the American Indian Journalism Institute at the University of South Dakota. She also attended the AIJI summer program in 2007 and in 2009 she participated in the Native American Journalists Association student projects as a reporter. Tesina is currently a member of NAJA and the Investigative Reporters & Editors organization.

Education

BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/21/2015 12:30 PM
TULSA, Okla. – A federal appeal from a Cherokee/Delaware high school senior wanting to wear an eagle feather at graduation has been denied. On May 20, U.S. Chief District Judge Gregory Frizzell upheld a recommendation from Magistrate Judge Frank McCarthy to reject an injunction request from Hayden Griffith, a senior at Caney Valley High School in Washington County. Griffith was gifted an eagle feather earlier this year by an elder specifically for her graduation, scheduled for May 21 in Ramona. After seeing a Facebook picture of Griffith in her graduation attire with the feather on her cap, school officials notified her it would not be welcome at the ceremony, prompting litigation after attempts at a compromise were unsuccessful. In his decision, Frizzell noted that the Caney Valley senior did not meet the burden of proof to show that her rights to free speech and free expression of religion would be irreparably harmed if she were not allowed to wear the eagle feather during graduation. “Griffith testified that her religion does not require her to attach the eagle feather to her cap at the graduation ceremony,” he wrote. “She also testified that wearing the feather shows her respect for God and the tribal elder who gave the feather to her, but that failing to attach the feather to her cap would not result in any religious detriment to her. Thus, attaching the feather to her graduation cap would be a personal expression of religious significance to Griffith, but it is not a religiously motivated practice or an activity that is fundamental to her religion.” During a May 19federal hearing, both Caney Valley High School Principal Debra Keil and District Superintendent Rick Peters emphasized the district was trying to maintain decorum and student solidarity at its annual graduation ceremony, prompting it to set a dress code for the event more than a decade ago. Among the edicts in that dress code are prohibitions on mortar board decorations or wearing any additional tassels, cords, sashes, stoles or collars not issued by the school or a school-sanctioned organization, such as the National Honor Society or the Future Farmers of America. Keil testified that any student who arrives at graduation in attire that does not follow the dress code is given the opportunity to make any necessary changes to become compliant, but would be held out of the commencement exercises if he or she refused to do so. School officials have maintained that the prohibition on is not a race-based one, but rather one that would prevent other students from adding anything and everything to their graduation regalia. “We would have to look at granting all sorts of other requests if we allowed the feather,” Keil said. “If a student wanted to put a pentagram on their cap, we’d have to at least consider it.” As both McCarthy and Frizzell pointed out in their findings, if Griffith attends graduation, she may wear the eagle feather on her cap until the students line up to enter the ceremony and put it back on her cap after the ceremony was over for photographs and mingling with attendees, but it would not be allowed during the ceremony itself because it would be a distraction and bring “undue attention” on Griffith while taking focus away from her classmates.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/20/2015 12:00 PM
TULSA, Okla. – A federal judge has ruled against a Cherokee/Delaware senior suing her school district for permission to wear an eagle feather at graduation. After three hours of testimony and arguments, Magistrate Judge Frank McCarthy issued a 10-page recommendation on May 18 that a preliminary injunction request from Hayden Griffith, a senior at Caney Valley High School in Washington County, be denied on the grounds that she had not sufficiently demonstrated that her rights would be violated by not being allowed to wear an eagle feather on her graduation cap. Citing the First Amendment rights to free speech and free expression of religion, as well as the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act, attorneys from the Native American Rights Fund, American Civil Liberties Union and a Tulsa-based law firm filed the litigation on Griffith’s behalf on May 15. Griffith was presented with the feather earlier this year by a Delaware elder and testified in court that she was gifted the feather specifically in honor of her high school graduation. Breaking down in tears while on the witness stand, Griffith acknowledged that she plans to attend graduation even if denied permission to wear the feather, but would not be happy about it. “I’d be upset,” Griffith said about the prospect of participating in graduation without the feather on her cap. “I’d feel like I’m not getting the same respect from the school that other students are getting and that they’re (school officials) disrespecting both me and God by not allowing me to wear the feather at graduation.” During the hearing, both Caney Valley High School Principal Debra Keil and District Superintendent Rick Peters emphasized that the district was trying to maintain decorum and student solidarity at its annual graduation ceremony, prompting it to set a dress code for the event more than a decade ago. Among the edicts in that dress code are prohibitions on mortar board decorations or wearing any additional tassels, cords, sashes, stoles or collars not issued by the school or a school-sanctioned organization, such as the National Honor Society or the Future Farmers of America. Keil testified that any student who arrives at graduation in attire that does not follow the dress code is given the opportunity to make any necessary changes to become compliant, but would be held out of the commencement exercises if he or she refused to do so. School officials have maintained that the decision is not a race-based one, but rather one that would prevent other students from adding anything and everything to their graduation regalia. “We would have to look at granting all sorts of other requests if we allowed the feather,” Keil said. “If a student wanted to put a pentagram on their cap, we’d have to at least consider it.” Both Keil and Peters previously suggested alternatives to the Griffith family, such as allowing the senior to carry the feather in her hand, wear it in her hear or as part of a piece of jewelry, but those offers were rejected since they were inconsistent with the traditions associated with wearing eagle feathers. During the May 19 hearing, Peters testified that if Griffith attended graduation, she would be allowed to wear the feather on her cap until the students lined up to enter the ceremony and could put it back on her cap after the ceremony, but it would not be allowed during the ceremony because it would be a distraction and bring “undue attention” on Griffith while taking focus away from her classmates. “We want to celebrate the accomplishments of all our students,” Peters said. “If she were to wear that feather, the No. 1 object they (graduation attendees in the stands) will see is the top of her cap and that feather hanging down.” With Caney Valley’s graduation scheduled for Thursday night, Griffith had until 11 a.m. May 20 to file an appeal with Chief District Judge Gregory Frizzell. If an appeal was filed by the deadline, attorneys for Caney Valley Public School had to submit their response by 1 p.m. later that day.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/18/2015 12:00 PM
RAMONA, Okla. – Citing the American Indian Religious Freedom Act and the First Amendment, a Cherokee/Delaware high school senior who was denied the right to wear an eagle feather at graduation is taking her case to the courts. On May 15, the Native American Rights Fund, Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Tulsa-based law firm of Conner and Winters filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of Oklahoma on behalf of Hayden Griffith against Caney Valley Public Schools and several of its administrators. Hayden Griffith was presented with an eagle feather earlier this year by a Delaware elder. Her mother, Lisa, posted a picture on social media of the Caney Valley senior wearing her graduation attire with the feather hanging on the cap. A few days later, a faculty member who saw the picture online stopped Hayden Griffith in the hallway and informed her that the feather would not be welcome at the school’s graduation ceremony. After negotiations with Superintendent Rick Peters were not fruitful, the Griffiths took their request to the Caney Valley board of education. The school board did not take any action on the matter, prompting the family’s attorneys to issue a formal demand that she be allowed to wear the feather and, after more than 48 hours without a response, file a lawsuit to get an injunction that would block the school district’s prohibition against the feather at graduation. School officials have maintained the decision is not a race-based one, but rather one that would prevent other students from adding anything and everything to their graduation regalia. Caney Valley administrators previously suggested alternatives such as wearing the feather as part of a piece of jewelry, but those offers were rejected because they were inconsistent with the traditions associated with wearing eagle feathers. Caney Valley Public Schools administrators could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit. With graduation scheduled for May 21, the Griffith’s attorneys have asked for an expedited hearing. The lawsuit has been assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell but no date has been set yet for an initial appearance. “Ms. Griffith is less than a week away from her high school graduation,” attorney Daniel Gomez wrote in the complaint. “The sacred eagle feather was ceremonially gifted to her for this specific occasion in recognition of the great honor of graduating high school and entering adulthood. If her graduation day passes without the requested relief, the opportunity to exercise her religious rights, to honor her family and be personally acknowledged and honored by her Indian family will be forever lost.”
BY STAFF REPORTS
05/15/2015 04:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Sequoyah High School has named its 2015 class valedictorian as Ashley Anderson and salutatorian as Diamond Bailey. Anderson, 18, of Keys, will graduate at the top of her class during the school’s graduation at 6:30 p.m. on May 22. According to a Cherokee Nation press release, Anderson will graduate with a weighted GPA of 4.55 and approximately 60 hours of college courses already completed through the school and CN’s concurrent enrollment program. She earned a 32 on her ACT and plans to attend Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She plans to double major in astrophysics and earth and planetary sciences. Anderson has received approximately $250,000 in scholarship offers. “I’m very driven and have a lot of goals I’ve set for myself, and I will do almost anything to see them through,” said Anderson. “Getting into Harvard is something I’m very proud of. I’m excited for all the opportunities it will bring and because it’s one of the best schools for science. I can’t wait to be surrounded by some of the brightest students and faculty the country has to offer.” Her dream is to visit several European countries and work at the ALMA Observatory in Chile, home of the world’s largest astronomical project, the release states. Anderson is the vice president of National Honor Society, captain of the academic team and a member of the robotics, book club and drama teams, where she appeared in “Beauty and the Beast” and “Please Come Home for Christmas.” Anderson is the daughter of Michael and Jennifer Anderson. Diamond Bailey, 17, of Rose, will graduate as the class salutatorian. According to the release, Bailey has a weighted GPA of 4.22 and has completed 18 hours of college credits. She plans to attend the University of Oklahoma and will double major in international business and economics and minor in German. She plans to pursue international business law. She has received more than $320,000 in scholarship offers “I knew I wanted to be at the top of my class. I’ve put a lot of hard work into my classes over the last four years, and I wanted something to show for it,” said Bailey. “I know that if I want something, I’m going to have to work for it. It won’t just be handed to me. That’s something I’ve learned here that I will definitely take with me into the future.” Bailey is a member of student council robotics, speech, drama, 4-H and academic team clubs. She is the daughter of Keith and Laura Bailey. The tribe’s College Resources awards high school valedictorian and salutatorian scholarships each year for students in the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction and contiguous counties. Although the deadline for those scholarships was April 10, students are still able to apply for the undergraduate, graduate and directed studies scholarships until June 5. Those scholarships are open to all CN citizens, regardless of any other awards that are received. If students reside outside the tribe’s jurisdiction, they must be Pell eligible. SHS will graduate 80 students on May 22 at “The Place Where They Play,” SHS’s gym. For more information, call 918-453-5400.
BY WILL CHAVEZ
Senior Reporter
05/14/2015 12:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – A Cherokee language classroom at the Cherokee Nation Child Development Center is having success at teaching children to become fluent speakers of the Cherokee language from the time they are infants. The immersion classroom has been a part of the CDC for six years and can accept up to eight children who are 6 weeks to 3 years old. Cherokee immersion teacher Phyllis Pettit said she tells parents that their children are not in a traditional classroom but are spoken to in Cherokee as soon as they come through the door and throughout the day. “I tell them we don’t teach. We talk to them in Cherokee all day long,” she said. “The whole purpose is when they leave my room they go straight to immersion (school).” She said a child leaving the CDC Cherokee room is usually accepted into the Cherokee Immersion Charter School even if there is a long waiting list. The school is also meant to immerse its students in the language. Pettit said she needs Cherokee speakers in the classroom. There are openings for two Cherokee-speaking teaching assistants. Having other speakers in the classroom allows her to speak in Cherokee with other adults in front of the children, she said, which helps the children pick up the language faster. CDC Manager Deanna Olaughlin said experience working with young children and being able to speak the language is a must for the two open positions. Applicants must be willing to go through background checks and have a GED or high school diploma to apply. “We would like for them to come in with a little more knowledge and experience, but we do hire people with minimal experience as long as they love children,” she said. “It’s just really hard to find somebody that has the language and is interested in working with young children.” Pettit said not all students who have aged out of her room go to the immersion school. Some parents choose to send their children to public schools. She said the students from her classroom are more than ready to take on the challenges of the immersion school, which is next door to the CDC. Pettit uses the school’s curriculum in her classroom and is familiar with it because she once worked there. Howard Paden enrolled his son Awati or Elias in the CDC language room when his son was 8 weeks old. He is now 2 years old. Paden said he believes the studies that have shown the sooner children are exposed to a language, the better. He said his biggest wish is for his three children to be able to walk up a fluent speaker or a Cherokee elder and converse with them in Cherokee. His son speaks Cherokee well, he said, and is excellent at making the difficult sounds required to speak it. “I know his first word was kamama (butterfly),” Paden said. He and Pettit agreed that it would be beneficial for the CDC Cherokee students to stay in the classroom until they are 4 years old because it would allow them to develop more while their future classmates in the immersion school learn how to speak Cherokee and reach a higher level of fluency. Paden said he has observed a 3-year-old boy leave the CDC language room to attend the immersion school and watched him regress because he was not challenged enough in his immersion classroom. Pettit explained one of her teaching methods to prepare students for the immersion school. She said, for instance, if a student sneezes, she will say in Cherokee “you sneezed.” She then will look at another student and say, “they sneezed” in Cherokee and then continue talking to students using different tenses in the language. “That’s why I think it’s important for them to hear speakers talking to each other. That’s how they pick it (language) up,” she said.
BY LENZY KREHBIEL-BURTON
Special Correspondent
05/11/2015 08:00 AM
VERDIGRIS, Okla. – When Verdigris High School hosts its 2015 graduation on May 15, a few extra items will be mixed in among the caps, gowns and tassels. For the first time since the high school was re-established in the late 1990s, Native American seniors at Verdigris will be allowed to wear an eagle feather with their graduation regalia. Of the 100 students slated to graduate, 26 are Native, including Cherokee Nation citizens. “This is a great opportunity for our kids to remember their heritage,” the school’s Johnson-O’Malley coordinator Charles Nadal said. “Most of us are Cherokee. We have some other tribes, including Pawnee, Shawnee, Osage and Kiowa. When it all comes down to it, we’re all brothers and sisters and this gives just a moment’s worth of unification.” The district’s JOM Program has been distributing eagle feathers to Verdigris seniors for five years. Several of the program’s active Parent Committee members have a senior at home and reached out to administrators almost six months before commencement exercises. “We saw the stories about the pushback at Seminole and Kingfisher (high schools) last year when their students wanted to wear feathers and we didn’t want to have to deal with that right before graduation,” JOM Parent Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Ayers said. “So we printed off the stories, took them with us and asked if it would be a problem.” When Verdigris officials gave the green light, Ayers and other JOM parents spent the spring semester practicing on turkey feathers before preparing the eagle feathers, including hand-sewing the beads and buckskin fringe on each quill. Their handiwork was presented to the seniors on May 2, along with a cedar box to protect the feather and a letter from Nadal, explaining the feather’s significance. “I’m so excited to get to embrace my culture and that it gets to be part of my graduation day,” senior Alison Turner said. “It was so meaningful and awesome to see one of my (substitute) teachers working on the beadwork. She was so excited to do it for us because she knew how excited and happy we were that we get the chance to do this. I’m so thankful that our superintendent allowed us to wear our feathers. It is a big deal to us to be able to do this and wear them proudly.” The seniors also each received an application for a permit to obtain their own eagle feathers as way to keep the tradition going for future classes at Verdigris. Under federal law, citizens of federally recognized tribes who are 18 and older may apply to receive and keep eagle feathers and parts for religious reasons from the National Wildlife Service’s National Eagle Repository. “It’s important to me that you all want to be a part of this,” Nadal told the seniors. “I hope that you all consider applying for a permit and help us continue this tradition.”