Youth Education discusses successes, offerings
By Danielle Frost
Youth Education means something different depending on who is asked. To some youths, it is a place to play basketball after school; to others, tutoring and homework help, or a place where they learn about future careers.
On Wednesday, Jan. 10, Tribal Youth Education Department staff members Dominique Olson, Vincent Chargualaf, Todd Hackman and Tiffany Mercier hosted a presentation about current academic and extracurricular activities, reports and results, and potential barriers to student success.
The 12 attendees included parents, staff, Willamina School District Superintendent Carrie Zimbrick, Tribal Education Department Manager Leslie Riggs, Tribal Planning Director Rick George and Tribal Council member Kathleen George.
“What we are doing is different now than in the past, and we are constantly looking for ways to improve,” Youth Education Manager Tim Barry said. “There are so many things we can do, and it’s ever-changing. It is almost like casework to some extent. We look at each kid and each circumstance differently.”
Currently, Youth Education serves approximately 150 Native American students in middle and high school in Willamina and Sheridan.
Tribal High School Lead Tiffany Mercier said that every student is unique.
“They are not statistics or numbers,” she said. “Each one of our kids are individual human beings … they all have a unique story to tell. There is no cookie-cutter solution for all of them. Each one is different, and we need to measure their success differently.”
While discussing the Youth Education strategies and accomplishments, Mercier said one was a record attendance at Native Club, with the highest number being 75 students. Another accomplishment is increasing parent engagement and positive reinforcement, such as student success nights, an honor and recognition ceremony, student spotlight in Smoke Signals and individual positive reinforcement.
“You have a very strong history in Grand Ronde, and we are honored to play a small part of helping to shape an already strong nation,” Mercier said. “It is really important for our kids to know that we do pay attention and care. We’re working hard to increase parental communication and involvement. The goal is to have them involved as much as possible.”
In addition to tutoring, Youth Education staff members act as mentors and advocates. Extracurricular activities and camps are held throughout the year.
Of the potential barriers to academic success, Olson, the Tribe’s Middle School Lead, said poverty was the biggest hurdle.
“I always list it first because it goes hand in hand with other statistics I share,” she said. “Our kids are at a heightened risk and these are the types of things we need to look out for.”
Barriers also include child abuse/neglect, substance abuse, general violence/crime, mental health, family history and lack of knowledge regarding resources.
“We want to give our kids a chance to break family cycles and be different than the statistics … it isn’t all of our kids,” Olson said. “But we want to be a resource for (those) kids to break free.”
Zimbrick said that with the implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, districts are required to consult with local Tribes on any federal funding it receives so that Tribal representatives can review it and offer feedback.
“I am hoping to host one of our School Board meetings with the Tribe annually. … I am very thankful and grateful to the Education Department of the Tribe and what you do,” she said.