Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised
Monday, August 03 2015
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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nickmetcalf-web.jpgBack to School

Itís this time of year that those of us with children are busy getting kids ready for school. We are shopping for school clothes and gathering school supplies. We are mentally preparing our kids for their return to a schedule. We are considering how, or if, we are able to be involved with the many school activities. Back to school: itís an exciting time.

As an insecure, awkward, effeminate kid who grew up isolated on a rural reservation in South Dakota, it was school that would be my ticket to someplace. My parents encouraged my pursuit of education. They celebrated my ability to learn. They recognized my thirst for knowledge.

My earliest memories of learning was of my mother. She enjoyed reading. As a young child, I laid next to her while she read her ďTrue RomanceĒ magazine. I begged her to read to me. Eventually, I got my own books to read aloud. She was so patient with me. One night she challenged me to try to read without making any sound or moving my lips. I protested, I couldnít do it. But she encouraged me, ďFollow the words. Youíll hear it in your head.Ē I tried and tried. I did it and I was beyond thrilled. The voice in my head could follow the words and I understood it. We laughed together.

My college years were the best time of my life. Leaving the reservation for college was difficult, but I got through it with the help of friends. I had to learn to survive off the reservation because I was thrust into an environment where no one looked like me, nor did I understand their worldview. It was my education that helped me reconcile places that didnít make sense and I learned a new way of thinking. I learned to be a critical thinker. I learned to be able to look at a variety of possibilities then make my best judgment based on the facts.

When I graduated with my Masterís degree in Social Work, my mother made the long, eight-hour trip from the Rez to come to my graduation. She put on a dress and she looked fancy. My mother was the lone scream I heard when my name was read to walk across the stage to get my diploma. I knew at that moment, it was her who got me this far. It was my mother who urged me. It was she who encouraged me. When doubt came along and got a hold of me, sheíd chase it off. When I heard her scream across that large auditorium, I knew, this moment was very much hers. I was her only child to pursue this level of higher education. She screamed with pride. It was her victory.

I know that school is not a place of salvation for some people in our community. It is the place of trauma. It left bad memories for some of our people because the effects of the boarding school era are still felt in parts of our community. We have elders in our community who dare not tell those stories of what they experienced, yet they pass on that trauma.

Our educational system is failing Native people. Graduation rates for Native kids in our local school district are horrible. The testing scores for our Native students are horrible. The dropout rates for Native kids are horrible.

I was amazed, then saddened, to learn the level of poverty our kids experience. In addition, the homeless rates that many of them are experiencing are horrible.

Itís frustrating when people in our educational system make assumptions that Native parents donít care about our kids education because we donít show up to meetings. Many of the parents I know are working a few jobs to make ends meet. Some parents are dealing with their own issues and are doing the best they can for their kids, but because we donít show up for an evening meeting then we are considered negligent. As if being poor was a moral failure.

Being poor is a societal problem.

I am encouraged by Native educators and Native professionals who are creating a crossroad for our children to fully integrate themselves in our educational institutions. They bring Native teachings into the classroom and they bring Native ideas. They fully appreciate our children for who they are and they understand the history of schools for us is a difficult one. They remind the educational system that our children are much more than a test.

School has been my salvation. It is the place that I am able to discover. It is the place that I reconcile ideas. It is the place that I explore possibilities. What Iíve come to know, my education is something that no one can ever take away from me. Back to school: itís an incredible time.

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