Native Village 
Youth and Education News

April 1, 2013

Program nurtures Native kids, gardens
Condensed by Native Village

Nebraska: Students from the Ponca tribe will soon plant a garden that elders hope produces more than plants and vegetables.

Their garden is part of Native Youth Leadership Academy, a new program by the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. The goal is to combine lessons about Ponca heritage with career plans that encourage youth to go to college.

"When we do our job right we will be able to say to them, 'You have the ability to go to college and we need you to do this because you are our next leaders,'" said Lisa Bickert, academy coordinator.

The tribe received a $760,000 grant to pay for the 48-week academy that will serve students in Lincoln, Norfolk, and Omaha. 

Lincoln Public Schools and Doane College are collaborating with the tribe. 

LPS grant coordinator T.J. McDowell says Native students have among the lowest graduation rates of all racial and ethnic groups. Last year, only 52% graduated from LPS.

McDowell was drawn to the academy because it uses two of the most effective approaches: establishing relationships and helping students value their cultural heritage.

Teaching children about their past includes and their culture's powerful role models empowers students.

"It's so important for students to have a positive perspective on that ... understanding, appreciating their culture and ethnic identity and history," McDowell said. "It's part of what's really exciting."

LPS will refer students to the program and may provide meeting space. Doane will offer mentors and help with college planning. Doane will give students 6 college credits for successfully completing the program.

Janice Hadfield is the dean of graduate and professional studies at Doane. She said college officials were impressed that the tribe's youth academy includes students as young as 14.

"One of the things liberal arts colleges have not often enough realized is that if we are going to work with minority populations ... who traditionally have not been successful in either attempting college or completing college ... if we wait for the time when (those) kids are ready to go to college, it's too late."

Students who complete the program will earn 3 credits each for history and career development at Doane. The credits for younger students will be held in "trust" for when they enter college.

Doane College

The academy also will pay for two college applications and offer other financial incentives for college.

Participating students will use Kindles to access the curriculum, which they will work on independently. They will also participate in online discussions with each other and academy staff. They will meet once a month for discussion and to hear speakers.

Although the academy serves the area's 770 Ponca youth, it is open to all Native students, Bickert said.

The tribe began recruiting candidates in March. The academy starts in April with a retreat at the Doane campus in Lincoln. The retreat will focus on historical trauma and healing.

Historical trauma is the cumulative emotional and psychological trauma of Natives across generations. To heal, students must understand this trauma and its effects on the Native world, people, and families.  The healing comes from using this knowledge as a source of cultural strength, to create "a change in who they are as emerging leaders," Bickert said.

The curriculum is divided into four units:

The ancestors unit will touch on historical Native leadership and legislation
The elders unit will cover modern legislation that involves Natives and Native lands.
future generations unit will focus on college planning -- looking at students' strengths and creating career plans
community service unit will be based students' interests, helping their tribal community, and their garden, which is growing plants that are part of their culture and tradition.

Students will be also be matched with tribal and college student mentors.

"We're hoping by the time they get through this that college is not something to be afraid of, that they can do this," Bickert said.

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