According to the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs (OJA), approximately 28 percent of the 273 delinquent youth in Pottawatomie County, Okla. were Native American. In the county’s two major cities, Shawnee and Tecumseh, 39 and 33 percent of their delinquent populations respectively, were Native American.
The dropout rate for this demographic is 32 percent nationally, a bleak figure in a county that is home to tribes such as the Iowa, Sac and Fox, Absentee Shawnee, Kickapoo and Citizen Potawatomi Nation. With nearly 13 percent of the county’s citizens identifying as Native American, the need to address the high dropout rate for this portion of the population is key not only for the students future, but that of a local community in need for skilled workers.
To combat this problem, CPN’s tribal youth program has recently expanded its after school mentorship and tutoring program. The Potawatomi Learning and Cultural Exchange’s (P.L.A.C.E.) has added Kyle Miller, an Academic Support Specialist, to coordinate the after school tutoring program.
Miller, a Cherokee Nation member and a pre-med major at St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, initially joined P.L.A.C.E. in the spring of 2013 as a tutor.
“My decision to tutor here was practical in one sense,” said Miller. “Eventually I want to be a pediatrician, and I felt it best to have some familiarity working with kids and students. Tutoring students from the local area was a great way to have those interactions.”
Though for Miller, the decision to give up his time to assist area students wasn’t entirely practical. Citing a number of statistics on the dropout rate for Native American students, the work of Miller and his staff at the P.L.A.C.E. is also a form of service to those in need.
“Being a student myself, I know that it’s one of the worst feelings in the world to not know the answer to something and feel like you have no way of getting help. For me, it’s an honor to assist in what is essentially these kids effort to build their lives. Getting to help out with that, knowing that they’re trying, is something I enjoy.”
The after school program Miller oversees serves 60 tribal youth for one hour each day, four days a week. Three tutors work with two groups of students during these sessions, where time is split between 30-45 minutes of mandatory tutoring and a separate block of instruction that aims to promote positive habits.
“On Mondays we have one of our elders come over and teach the students how to play chess,” said Miller. “On Tuesdays, we have a specific program called ‘Positive Action’ that is designed to develop skills that are essential to everyday life and work. Teaching something as simple as note taking or budgeting can make a difference for the students in and outside the classroom.”
Students also work with P.L.A.C.E Prevention Specialist Michael Logan and CPN Cultural Coordinator Coby Lehman. Lehman and Logan partner on the ‘GET Native’ program, which instructs students on the tribe’s history, culture and traditional games.
If you would like to learn more about FireLodge Youth Program’s tutoring program, please contact FireLodge Youth Council Program Director BJ Trousdale firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about FireLodge Youth Program’s other activities and services, please visit www.potawatomi.org/services/community/firelodge-children-and-family-services/youth-council.