Hope without opportunity is nothing more than empty promises for the youth of today. After attending the 2014 Partnering for the Future: Investing in Native Student Success, an initiative sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I came away thinking about the opportunities we make available for our children. Will these opportunities have a foundation in academic success, empowerment to make a difference, or community mentorships? Perhaps it is a combination of all three with a caveat attached to each one.
Academic proficiency is foundational, but proficiency defined by whose culture? Can we preserve and honor the traditions of our indigenous cultures while mandating state and national standards usually devised by people outside these cultural borders? Can we stress academic achievement while not acknowledging the importance of social and emotional growth? These are crucial questions that need to be addressed if hope is to be accompanied by opportunities that are culturally relevant.
When our children are not involved in educational decision-making there is a lack of ownership and personal investment. One of the people at this session said that it is difficult to include four-year-olds in the decision-making process. As a kindergarten teacher for many years, I politely disagree. When we ask three and four year olds how they want to feel when they enter a new environment – we are including them. When we ask them what they want to learn we are including them, and more importantly we are empowering them to make decisions about their own learning and about developing community goals.
We have all heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child”, but does this really happen when we are discussing community mentorships? When a child has a passion for drama is there an opportunity for that child to have a community role-model within that artistic arena? When a child seeks to discover the beautiful music of a wood flute is there a path for that discovery? When a child exhibits creativity through writing is there an avenue to have a mentor who is also a writer? Exploring community mentorships is the opportunity to make magic happen – to have hope accompanied by opportunity.
As we look at the success of our children, step back and really look at the word “success” and what it implies. Is it wealth, prosperity and fame or is it something that is more culturally diverse? I met a mom at an early childhood meeting and perhaps she expressed it best. When asked what she wanted for her child, she said that she felt uncomfortable using the word success because success was defined by someone outside of her culture. She was much more comfortable with the word “flourish” because she wanted her child to grow and develop in healthy ways – to thrive. Isn’t that what we want for all our children - - - to have hope for the future accompanied by a multitude of opportunity to reach that goal?