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Feeling the need to belong

PORT GAMBLE — Education is a basic right but only some Native Americans are taking full advantage of it.

In North Kitsap the number of Native American students who complete their high school education isn’t near where North Kitsap School District (NKSD) or tribal leaders would like.

At the annual Inter-Tribal NKSD meeting at the Port Gamble S’klallam Elder Center March 19, members of the S’klallam and Suquamish Tribes and NKSD brainstormed ways to keep Native American students attending school.

Although concern is focused on high school dropouts, many agreed that the biggest dropout years start in middle school.

“That’s when they have already decided mentally that it’s not for them,” said Nancy Moffatt, the executive director of finance and operations.

Beckie Clark, North Kitsap High learning specialist, said teachers need to individually create a welcoming relationship, where students want to come to school.

“Students need to feel they belong,” she said, adding home visits would also ensure building positive and consistent relationships.

“The tribes have a better relationship with their community,” Moffat said in agreement with Clark. “We need to adopt this and become more of a village with the students.”

The home visits would also help the families in which both parents work and cannot make their kids physically go to school each day.

“We need our kids to want to go, feel they need and should go,” said Christy Cole, principal of Kingston High.

No matter what teachers do on an individual level, some circumstances are out of the school districts control, said Melanie Mohler, NKSD school board president.

Clark and Mohler agreed that some drop out because they opt to work instead of finishing school. Clark said they don’t realize the detriment to their future that decision makes.

More options for students, including all-day or night school, could be the key to solving this issue, Mohler said.

“That’s where it’s heading in the future,” she said. “Every kid has a unique set of circumstances. We need to have options for these kids.”

So far some programs have created progress.

“The (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) has been hugely helpful in catching kids earlier on,” Mohler said.

Also, with the addition of Kingston High, school board members are seeing an increase in tribal students participating in athletics and activities.

MaryLou Murphy, executive director of teaching and learning, said everyone has ingrained preconceived notions.

“It’s hard not to pass judgements on,” she said.

“In order to better the situation, it is necessary to really listen to the students to figure what is driving them out of the classrooms and if it is racial exclusion.”

This was the last annual meeting for Murphy, NKSD Superintendent Gene Medina and Dixie Hausser, the assistant director of learning support.

All potential candidates will have big shoes to fill, said Mohler.

“All of you will sorely be missed,” she said.

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