Even though most students are still enjoying their summer break, a Citizen Potawatomi Nation program is already planning to boost student and parent involvement when school starts.
The Johnson O’Malley program is a long-time federal resource available to Indigenous public education students. Authorized by the Johnson-O’Malley Act of 1934, the program contains educational objectives to address the needs of eligible American Indian and Alaska Native students. The programs vary from Nation to Nation but may include culture, language, academics and dropout prevention.
The CPN Workforce Development & Social Services Department administers JOM and serves Oklahoma’s public school students in Asher, Bethel, Choctaw-Nicoma Park, Dale, Earlsboro, Harrah, Lexington, Little Axe, Macomb, Maud, South Rock Creek, Tecumseh and Wanette. They also assist Epic Charter Schools and homeschool students.
CPN employees Shelly Watson, WF&SS employment and staff manager, and Peggy Walters, WF&SS youth counselor, are leading the JOM group. They want parents to know JOM may be able to help with unexpected school costs.
“The program is designed to allow Native students the same opportunities that non-Native students would have when it comes to purchasing things for school, such as school pictures, spirit t-shirts, yearbooks, letter jackets, senior announcements, and cap and gown,” Watson said.
Parents could also receive help with school supplies, tutoring and driver’s education, as well as funds to help purchase gym shoes, gloves, cleats and uniforms.
In most cases, JOM assists with a portion of school-related expenses. In some instances, JOM might be able to assist with a larger portion. Each student is evaluated individually, Watson said.
Students who earn good grades can also qualify for incentives.
“There are some grade incentives. They can earn a $10 gift card every nine weeks that they make a C or better in all their classes,” Watson said.
Parents who are interested in JOM should fill out an application. Since JOM programs are federally funded, the application helps Workforce Development & Social Services fulfill the federal government’s information requirements.
All parents should apply regardless of income level, Watson said.
“A lot of parents maybe don’t apply because their income is substantial, but that shouldn’t deter anyone,” she said. “Even though we do ask for income (information), we do serve all the youth.”
Once the application is complete, parents will receive a letter with the name of their child’s JOM counselor.
“They contact that counselor to complete the process. We can do it over the phone or in person,” she said. “This helps us outline what kind of services (parents want) throughout the year.”
JOM also hosts activities when students are on school breaks.
“We try to plan a (whole) day, especially for kids that would be home by themselves,” Watson said. “We teach them how to make hand drums. We teach them how to make rattles, or we teach basket weaving.”
While the Potawatomi culture is often featured, Watson said employees from different Tribal backgrounds also contribute their knowledge of their own cultural practices, so each student learns something from their own Nation.
“We serve all kids in six counties. So, we might (include something) from the Seminole Nation or the Choctaw Nation. We have invited language programs to do a little teaching, and we try to expose kids to their Native language,” she said.
Students also receive guidance from a nutritionist on how to prepare healthy meals and snacks, and there is a fitness component to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
The education component includes camps every Tuesday and Thursday in July. Past camps have included Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or, STEM.
Walters’ favorite activity is painting.
“Everyone painted little canvases, and they’re all very creative. That’s my favorite part,” she said.
All the projects are featured in an August display at the CPN Cultural Heritage Center. Gift cards are awarded for first, second and third place.
The first JOM parent meeting held in the fall will include the election of new parent officers. Having recently added Noble Public Schools to their list, the group plans to schedule meetings outside the Shawnee area so more parents will be able to attend.
“Moving forward, we want to see more participation. We’ll start out the school year with the exhibit at the CHC, a back-to-school bash for the kids and a camp over fall break,” Watson said.
Later in the year, the group will attend an Oklahoma City Thunder game. They also hope to teach students how to make ribbon skirts and tribal regalia, she added.
The program has come a long way since its inception and over the past several years. Watson is excited to see it reach the next level.
“I didn’t know (JOM) did all of this stuff. When my kids were young, I really could have benefited. I think it’s definitely come a long way,” she said.
She attributes the changes to the federal government becoming more observant and responding to what Native students really need.
Walters said she and another staff member will be attending the National JOM Conference in Chicago, Illinois, this year. It is an opportunity to see new innovations the program has planned and how those can be implemented in Oklahoma.
“It will be interesting to see what knowledge they bring back. We do a lot to help people and I’m thankful for that,” Watson said.
The JOM program benefits from recent reductions in government red tape.
“Our program, I will say it’s amazing. We’re under public law 477. So, all the money comes here, and we disperse the funds,” she said.
Public Law 102-477 is the Indian Employment, Training and Related Services Demonstration Act of 1992. The Act allows Tribes to integrate employment, training and related services into a single program with a single budget.
Previously, a tangle of federal government regulations could mean Native students only received a small dollar amount annually in services.
“I definitely think our kids benefit more (from 477) because it’s less administrative funds going towards staffing and fringe costs. It’s program money going to the kids and not paying salaries to several different people. I think that’s great,” Watson said.
For more information, contact Workforce Development & Social Services at 405-878-3854 or join the CPN JOM Facebook group.