Earlier this year MTCC VISTAs Kaitlyn McCoy’s and my own service site, Fort Peck Community College (FPCC) was awarded the American Indian College Fund (AICF) Native Pathways to College Bridge Program Grant - $100,000 distributed over the course of two years. The grant aims to increase American Indian and Alaska Native high school students’ college readiness. FPCC delivers the ACIF Bridge Curriculum Guide throughout the year in: academic classes during a summer academy, culturally focused camping trips, college admissions knowledge, first-year college experience classes, a book club, and college campus visits.
The most essential element of all program planning is the link between grant funded curriculum and community culture – the Bridge. Since the beginning of the grant writing process Kaitlyn and I made efforts to continually consult with various community members to guarantee the Bridge program would be relevant to students affiliated with both the Nakoda (Assiniboine) and Dakota (Sioux) Tribes. Marty Reum, FPCC Student Support Services Advocate, helped us immensely during our logo design phase and historian and writer Dr. Joseph McGeshick planned and facilitated our summer camp outs.
Kaitlyn has now been joined with a new July 2017-18 term VISTA, Kaitlin Willbanks, and the two are in the planning state for the Bridge college visits. The two are busy linking cultural relevancy to all components of the trips including travel. The October journey to and from University of Minnesota will reflect the historical Nakoda, Dakota, and Lakota (Sioux) migration. The campus tours themselves will be led by students or facility in the Native American Studies departments and engaged in Native American student groups. All of this culturally contextualized planning will introduce Fort Peck students to communities they can more comfortably transition into if they decide to attend college further from home.
While applying for, planning, and implementing Bridge, the program has been one of the most consuming projects of both Kaitlyn and my own first service year it has not always been a smooth process. Kaitlyn recently spoke to one of the weakness she’s observing during this program implementation phase:
“One of the greatest needs overlooked by Bridge programming is the at-risk student population. While the summer academy and camp-outs reached a good number of enthusiastic youth from across Fort Peck Reservation, there is still a large percentage being left behind. There are plenty of students barely staying in school, so it is highly unlikely they can take on the extra expectations of Bridge. At the same time we know Bridge programming would be exponentially more beneficial to them.”
Kaitlyn hopes that through more brainstorming both she and Kaitlin will figure out ways to decrease the barriers of entry to this large percentage of at-risk students throughout the year.
The Bridge grant has really been a lesson in the foundational need to connect the context of a people, and even personalities, into the building of programs. Last year I learned, to serve a people one must first get to know them. Kaitlyn, Kaitlin, and I have built formative relationships with Fort Peck high school, college students, and community members that are the basis for Bridge successes. These relationships are invaluable to our service, and it is our continued hope they are similarly rewarding for Fork Peck communities.