By Anne Ravana
Condensed by Native Village
Maine: Students from Colby, Bates and Bowdoin colleges are encouraging Wabanaki youth to plan for higher education.
Recently, Colby College students visited Indian Island School to introduce students to college life. The IIS students participated in activities and watched a promotional video about life at Colby College, where Native Americans make up less than 1% of the student body. That statistic also applies to Bowdoin and Bates.
"I think the kids have been really receptive to us, it's harder a little bit with the older ages, some of our activities aren't as cool to them. But I think in general a lot of them have heard 'college.' We hear a lot at the end, 'Oh, I want to go to Colby.'" says senior Kris Ortiz. Ortiz is a native Hawaiian and knows what it's like to be a minority student. "It hasn't always been easy, but I think that I'm a better person for it. It's definitely helped me develop my own understanding of race and my own personal development so it's been really good for me. I've learned a lot."
The Maine Indian Education office is updating its statistics about Wabanaki high school graduation rates and how many graduates attend college. MIE says that since 2005, Wabanaki school drop-out rates are at or below the state average. College attendance is another matter.
"We know that Wabanaki kids tend to not matriculate to college as frequently as other population groups," says John Dieffenbacher-Krall of the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission. "In part what the Colby students will do is part of an integrated program to help Wabanaki kids see themselves as going to college, to demystify it for them, make them comfortable and help them to aspire to it."
Selena Neptune-Bear, a fifth grader at Indian Island School, remembers Colby students visiting last year. Selena says she and her friends are already talking about college. "We've talked about college before and like what classes we plan to take and like if we're going to go to college and stuff. Most of my friends are going to go to college," she said. "A lot of my friends like have like really big jobs they want to do, like me, I want to be a pediatrician, but I'm not sure, so...I'm only in fifth grade."
Ty Robertson, IIS guidance counselor, says it's never too early to talk to children about college, both at school and at home. "I think it's important to introduce students to all types of colleges, both public and private, because we have a lot of talented students here and they should look at going to the college of their choice," he says. "And usually there's money to be found, there's scholarships. I think they should have high aspirations and many choices, not be limited to just public schools."
There are 34 tribal colleges and universities in the U.S., but none in Maine. The American Indian College Fund says Indian students are often more successful in tribal colleges and universities because those schools infuse tribal culture into the curricula and settings.
"We find that the retention rate is higher among students that attend tribal colleges because of the collaborative and encouraging learning environment that American Indians experience in their cultures," said Dina Horwedel of the AICF. "If an American Indian student were to attend a mainstream institution, typically they would encounter a highly competitive system, competition to get the best grade and that kind of thing."
Meanwhile, at the Indian Island School, Selena Neptune Bear says her family is encouraging her to attend the college of her choice. "My mom, like, she didn't go to college so now she's in college again. So she tells us to go to college before you have kids and have a family and stuff because it's really important to have an education."
Later this spring, Wabanaki high school juniors and seniors will visit the Bates, Bowdoin and Colby campuses and learn more about the admissions process.