AIRC explores VR, other teaching methods while focusing on Native education

Multimedia Reporter
07/11/2020 02:00 PM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Ashlyn Fullerton, left, discusses items she found in nature and why she chose them during Camp Sevenstar’s Youth Pilot STEM Camp on July 2 at Camp Sevenstar near Lake Tenkiller. Fullerton is 8 years old and is a Cherokee Nation citizen. COURTESY
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Pam Iron, American Indian Resource Center executive director, discusses end-of-day activities to students during Camp Sevenstar’s Youth Pilot STEM Camp on July 2 at Camp Sevenstar near Lake Tenkiller. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – With a focus on Native American education, the American Indian Resource Center continues to heighten education for students in northeastern Oklahoma.

Founded in 1983, it serves approximately 80 schools and introduces new teaching styles while emphasizing Native learning styles.

“We have established a spatial lab for virtual reality and we have actually put a lot of equipment in the schools like large TV’s and virtual reality headsets for the youth,” Pam Iron, AIRC executive director, said.

Iron said AIRC officials can scan items such as hickory nuts or other tangible items to be used within VR. “We’re trying to do a lot of scanning of items, so when we get ready to do a game or some kind of history lesson, those artifacts will already be in there.”

By introducing VR learning and the spatial lab to students, Iron said she feels AIRC is on the “cutting edge” when it comes to educating. “We were doing this before COVID and then all of a sudden it’s kind of jumped to the forefront.”

Another type of learning AIRC offers is “exploration outdoor education,” which Iron said is implemented in “most” of their programming. One program offered is Project Venture.

“So, what that program does is it really teaches leadership,” she said. “Self-esteem is at the center of it, knowing who you are, knowing your likes and dislikes and becoming centered and also how to relate to the world around you. A lot of it is in a camp setting.”

She said the students partake in Project Venture at AIRC’s Camp Sevenstar near Lake Tenkiller.
“This camp has the low ropes and high ropes. We write outdoor exploration learning in all of our programs, then we take our youth out to the camp,” she said. “However, due to COVID-19 we’ve had to curtail some of our activities at the camp.”

A program that Iron called AIRC’s “best kept secret” is the Educational Talent Search, which assists eighth through 12th grade students who are the first in their family to attend college. She said it serves approximately 750 Native and non-Native students annually.

“We do that in 12 different schools, and we’ve had that program for like 29 years,” she said. “It’s kind of like that program’s the best kept secret that has helped thousands and thousands of Cherokees with getting into college.”

Iron said AIRC is also in its second year of providing the Wathene Young Scholarship and Dr. Fount Holland Memorial Scholarship, for which students who qualify can apply until July 15.

“It was established by our board of directors for two of the founders of our organization. Wathene was the founder and then Fount, about five years later, came and worked in partnership with Wathene,” she said. “We’re really proud that we’ve been able to establish them because of not only honoring them for all of their leadership in Indian education but it really depicts what AIRC stands for and that is to promote secondary education at the college level and vocational.”

AIRC is raising funds for the scholarships. Iron said this is because the center does not receive federal funding for them. “The two things that we established have been an Indian taco dinner in the fall and then a wild onion dinner in the spring. However, we won’t be able to do that this year, so we’re doing online fundraising, and we also have a donor list so people can give money towards the scholarship.”

Iron said AIRC providing “enhanced services” is important for Native youth.

“Although, Indian education has improved dramatically there’s still a long way to go to be sure that our youth have the opportunities that other individuals have,” she said.

AIRC has offices in Tahlequah, Kenwood and at Camp Sevenstar. For information, visit or search American Indian Resource Center on Facebook.

Wathene Young Scholarship

Apply at

• Must be a citizen of a federally recognized tribe verified by a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood issues by the federal government or tribal enrollment identification;

• Must be a high school senior from one of the following counties in which AIRC provides educational services: Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Mayes, Muskogee, Nowata, Rogers or Sequoyah;

• Must be enrolled as a full-time student seeking a college degree or technical certificate at an accredited institution (for profit institutions prohibited); and

• A 2.5 cumulative GPA or higher is required.

Dr. Fount Holland Memorial Scholarship

Apply at

• Must be a high school senior participant of the American Indian Resource Center’s Educational Talent Search program;

• Must be enrolled as a full-time student seeking a college degree or technical certificate at an accredited institution (for profit institutions prohibited); and

• A 2.5 cumulative GPA or higher is required.
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