Gail Tahhahwah moved to Durango from Oklahoma two years ago and began looking for ways for her family to become involved with the Native American community.
Tahhahwah, who is Comanche, Kiowa and Apache, found it was a bit tough to connect with the Native American community because there was no one central organization to join to meet Native Americans. As part of her efforts, she became involved with the Native American Education Parent Advisory Committee through Durango School District 9-R.
She wanted to ensure that her own children, elementary and high school students, and other Native American students have the support they need to succeed in school, as well as cultural activities in which to participate, she said. Cultural activities help Native American students meet other indigenous students and learn about their heritage and other tribes, she said.
“We need to teach our children that it’s something to take pride in,” she said.
When students feel involved in school, they are more likely to succeed and graduate, she said.
Native American students at Durango High School have seen success at school in recent years.
The four-year graduation rate for Native American students at DHS jumped from 50% in 2017 to 84.6% in 2018. The high school’s overall graduation rate was 87.4% in 2018.
Ceriss Blackwood, the district’s Multicultural Equity Impact Program manager, credited high school staff for the jump in graduation rates because staff supported students academically and hosted activities, such as the Winter Artists Market.
Blackwood, who started this winter in her position, is working to sustain the high graduation rates among Native American students.
She is also in charge of overseeing federally funded services for the 193 Native American students in the district. As part of those responsibilities, she has been meeting with Native American families to see what their students need to succeed, she said.
“It was my top priority when I got hired to build relationships with families,” she said.
Since she started, she has seen renewed interest in the parent committee and interest in starting new cultural activities, she said.
For example, parents are interested in celebrating Native American heritage month across the district in November. The celebrations could include a powwow, potentially at DHS, in the fall that would be open to the public, she said.
Families across the district are also interested in tutoring services because some struggle to help their students at home, she said. Blackwood would also like to provide Native American students with free school supplies in the fall.
This school year, Blackwood took students to a Southern Ute Career Fair to help them explore career options, and she plans to do it again.
“I think this next school year is going to be amazing and the students are going to really flourish,” she said.
Parents can register their Native American students to receive federally funded support from the district by emailing Blackwood at email@example.com. In a Native American family, a student, parent or grandparent must be an enrolled tribal member to receive services.