A Journey with Impact

Dartmouth Partners in Community Service Internship
Indian Education Center: Public Schools of Robeson County, NC
Concetta Lowery

On January 9, 2008 I began a journey and little did I know how great the impact of this journey would be on my life.  I was selected to work at the non-profit organization of my choice so I chose to work at the Indian Education Resource Center in Pembroke, NC.  I chose this organization not only because it is close to home but also because this center gave me many opportunities while I was in middle and high school.  I wanted to give back to my community and to the Indian Education Center.
On that day when stepped into the center, Mrs. Rita and Mrs. Kathy Dae escorted me to my office.  Yes, I had my very own office with a work desk, a computer desk, and file cabinets!   I felt really professional as I sat down in front of the computer and started decorating my office.  Mrs. Rita and Mrs. Kathy Dae introduced me to the other workers at the center.  They included Mr. Kenny Clark, the cultural specialist and Ms. Jessica and Ms. Carter, the secretaries.  Afterwards, Mrs. Rita and Mrs. Kathy Dae explained to me that I had a lot of work to do during my internship!
My first assignment was planning Saturday Academy.  At first, I wasn’t too thrilled about doing this.  But Mrs. Kathy Dae explained to me that you must do planning before you have different programs or events.  Saturday Academy is a program held every Saturday at the Indian Education Resource Center.  Native American students grades third to twelfth are eligible to attend.  Every Saturday selected students will go to the center and get tutoring needed for the End-of-Grade tests, which are tests the state of North Carolina gives to public schools students.   Also, high schools students can attend Saturday Academy to receive tutor and make up absences in school.  I helped Mrs. Kathy Dae pick which classes to use for the academy and then I assigned teachers to the classes and then students to the teachers.  I typed up rosters, letters, and other notes or memos that needed to be distributed to Saturday Academy teachers and students.
I did not get to attend a Saturday Academy and help tutor the students but I did help a lot with Cultural Academy.  Mr. Kenny Clark planned Cultural Academy.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, selected students in grades three to eight, would go to the Indian Education Center to attend the program.  The program offers these classes: Drum and Dance, Technology, Digital Storytelling, Art I and Art II, and Pottery.  Within these classes, students learn about the eight state recognized tribes in North Carolina.  They learn about the tribes’ cultures, leadership, traditions, and customs.  I went to almost every culture class and I always enjoyed myself.  I would attend the classes and observe what the children were doing or learning.  I would even ask them questions to see if they really did understand the material.  Sometimes I would be so amazed at what these kids knew!  I even learned things myself.
I bonded with many students at this cultural academy.  I remember the very first day of the after-school program when a little girl named Amy* entered the room that the students waited in.  Although there were many empty seats, Amy decided not to seat down.  Instead, she stood waiting beside me.  I asked her why didn’t she want to sit down but she kept saying she didn’t want to.  I thought Amy was a little shy so I did not think too much of it.  I asked her if she knew any of the students in the room; she knew a few of the students.  While waiting she would tell me a little about herself and her family.  I have to say I did enjoy her company.  Later, it was time for students to go to class.  Amy was in the Drum and Dance class but she said she didn’t want to be in this class.  She wanted pottery so I told her to make the best of it.  I told Amy to meet new friends and have fun.  But I didn’t think too much of what I was saying.  Why would this little girl listen to me anyways?  So Amy went to class and we talked during the break for snacks.  She continued to express that she did not like the class and I continued to encourage her to try to enjoy it.  After this first night, Amy continued to come to Cultural Academy every Tuesday and Thursday night.  Amy taught me something: NEVER ASSUME A CHILD IS SHY AND QUIET!  I would watch Amy and see her interact with other students, even those not in her class.  Whenever she came to the program she would come up to me, sit in my lap and tell me about her day!  I loved to see her open up and have fun at the academy!  Every Tuesday and Thursday I looked forward to seeing Amy and laughing at all her stories!  Maybe my little advice that first day of the program really did help!
The class I helped the most with was Digital Storytelling with Ms. Shannon Brayboy.  The class was very small compared to the other classes; it only had four students.  In this class the students were able to recognize the state recognized tribes of North Carolina: the Coharie, Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Meherrin, Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation, Sappony, Eastern Band of Cherokee and the Waccamaw-Siouan Tribe.  The students were grouped in twos and selected a tribe to research and create a small movie based on the information found.  Since many students knew a great deal about the Lumbee Tribe, Ms. Brayboy asked them to pick a tribe other than the Lumbee.  The two groups picked the Haliwa-Saponi and the Eastern Band of Cherokee.  Since the class was so small, I was able to get to know each student.  Gregory* was what I liked to call the “brains” of the class.  He used correct grammar, eagerly engaged in tribal research, and actively participated in activities in his school.  Kayla* was the oldest student in the class.  She was very mature and preferred to work alone.  However, Kayla worked with her partner as Ms. Brayboy demanded and took joy in being a leader of the class.  Hannah* brought a lot of energy to the class.  She was not shy at all and would always entertain the class with stories from her day at school.  I actually admired her energetic behavior and the way she always felt comfortable around the other students.  Dakota* was my favorite student in this class.  My first impression of Dakota was that he was the rebellious student.  Ms. Brayboy constantly told Dakota to help Kayla with research when he wasn’t or to not talk when he was talking about something not pertaining to class.  I knew a little about Dakota’s life.  He father was in prison for beating a man with a bat.  He also lived in an area in Robeson County that is dissolute.  However, Dakota’s mother seemed very concerned about her children (Dakota’s brother also attended the program) and their education; she would speak to Ms. Brayboy about Dakota’s class work.
Dakota talked to me everyday.  Whenever I walked in the room he would immediately greet me, most of the time with something humorous that made me laugh.  Eventually he began to cooperate and work on his project.  Whenever I worked on other tasks such as breaks, class monitoring or attendance, he would ask if he could help.  I guess you can say Dakota became my personal “teacher’s pet.”  But I liked this because I had a chance to talk to him.  He would tell me stories about home life and his brothers.  I became very concerned about him and how he thinks of school.  So I would ask Dakota about school.  Yes, he is a young boy and yes he did say he doesn’t like school.  But I made it clear to Dakota how important getting an education really is.  I told him people with degrees make more money and live more comfortable lives than those who don’t have a degree.  Dakota would listen to me but always acted like he wasn’t.  But I knew he really was.  I didn’t stop encouraging him or talking to him.  I showed him that I cared about him and I honestly believe he knew that.
The last day of the academy the students showcased their various works to all parents.  They students also danced for the audience.  It was really fun.  I was sad that the program was over.  Many students made me so happy to be part of the program.  They came to me, hugged me and gave me that big smile with those shining eyes.  I knew right then that I did make a difference in that program.  I told them to keep reading, keep making As, and stop chasing boys and girls!  I gave Amy, who was running all over the place, a hug good-bye.  Then finally it was time for me to say good-bye to Dakota.  I really didn’t want to because I didn’t know if I was ever going to see this little boy again.  But I gave him a hug and had another laugh with him. I also took a picture with him!  I told his mom how much I really enjoyed him.  Then before he left, I asked Dakota if he was going to attend the program again.  And Dakota, who initially wouldn’t do any work, looked at me and said, “Yea, I am!”
Perhaps my favorite part of my internship was visiting native high school students.  My main goal while visiting these schools was to guide students through the process of applying for scholarships and colleges.  On top of this, I gave seniors a few tips about college life and what to expect.  In total, I visited four high schools.  Each school in the Robeson County Public School system has a Youth Development Specialist (YDS).  This YDS works closely with Native American students with attendance, tutoring, scholarships, financial aid, academic programs, cultural programs, and much more.  The YDS also works with “targeted” students who are on the verge of dropping out of school.  They look at reasons why the student may drop out or is thinking about dropping out and guides them to resources to help them with their problems.  I really admire the work of an YDS and am certainly grateful to the ones I have had in school.  I had a different experience at each high school.
St. Pauls High is a small high school.  It is located in St. Pauls, North Carolina.  Mr. Albert Harding is its YDS and also a fellow church member of mine.  I went to St. Pauls one afternoon to speak with the Native American Student Association (NASA) club.  I spoke to about fifteen students and most of them were girls.  But the cool thing about it was that I felt comfortable around them.  I wasn’t standing up or walking around; I was sitting with them at tables speaking to them.  I told them about my high school years and a little about Dartmouth.  I gave them tips on essays, networking, recommenders and nominators, and finding money for school.  I also stressed the importance of volunteer work and how scholarships and colleges really look at community service activities.  I thought these students were just going to stare at me with no expression on their face.  But I could tell they were listening!  They asked so many questions; I feel we really connected on a personal level.  I was their resource, their guide as to what its like not only as an Native American on campus but as a female on campus.  We shared stories and I gave them advice.  At that moment they were not just high school students to me.  They were my family, my brothers and sisters and were willing to talk to them for hours if they wanted me to.
Lumberton Senior High school was a bit different from the rest.  Mr. Tommy Blanks is the YDS here and my favorite!  I spent three days at this school.  I spoke to the NASA club and Ms. Brayboy’s three classes.  She teaches American Indian Studies and United Sates History.  To be honest, when I spoke to the NASA club I felt a little disrespected because a couple of girls kept talking and joking while I was speaking.  But I did not let this stop me from speaking to those who were really interested in what I had to say.  Also, at Lumberton I was able to speak with students who are really concerned about their education and some who wanted to drop out.  A particular student got accepted to Duke but continued to worry about paying for college.  She applied for the Gates Scholarship but didn’t apply for anything else.  But I gave her some other resources for scholarships and how to find them.  Now she is a semi-finalist for Gates and I pray she receives it.  I think students talking to me, someone a little older than them, made them feel more comfortable.  I spoke to two girls who recently got in trouble for skipping school.  They did not like school at all and wanted to drop out but their parents would not let them!  But I talked to them and they listened very well.  I understood where they were coming from, especially the part about not getting along with teachers.  But you can’t get along with everyone in the world can you?
South Robeson is probably the smallest high school in Robeson County.  Mr. Bob Locklear is the YDS here and he really knows how to talk to the students.  It was here that I felt the most help for native students were needed.  Mr. Bob asked the guidance counselor, a non-native woman, to call the top ten Native American juniors to meet him in the computer room.  When Mr. Bob told the guidance counselor why I was there, she immediately responded in a hasty tone, “Why just the native students?  Why can’t she talk to all students?’  Mr. Bob then explained to her that I was an intern for the Indian Education Center and part of my job was to encourage native students to attend college.  She then responded, “That’s what they all say.”  Mr. Bob said nothing else to her and neither did me.  I was actually in complete shock that a guidance counselor would say such a thing.  But I did talk to the students; they all seemed very ambitious and determined!  Plus, while at South Robeson I did a little recruiting.  Jordan,* a senior at South Robeson, applied to Dartmouth College to enter this coming fall and was accepted.  Chris admitted his desire to attend Dartmouth but was a little worried about it.  He asked me many questions about financial aid, classes, professors, activities, departments, and basically everything he could ask about Dartmouth.  I answered them as best as I could because I wanted him at Dartmouth as well!  But Jordan needed help with a form regarding financial aid from Dartmouth.  He constantly asked the guidance office for help but was answered with a “Later,” “Not now,” or “I’m busy.”  This really made me sad.  It was disappointing to know that a student who needed just a little bit of help could not get it at his school.  I asked Jordan what he needed and he told me.  I gave him the name of someone at Dartmouth who could help him.  Mr. Bob called the person and then Jordan received an email with the form he needed attached.  He printed the form and then all he had to do was have his guardian fill it out.  All it took was a simple phone call to get Jordan the help he needed.  I’m so glad I was there that day to give him that help.  Jordan was not the only student that I was concerned about.  Ellen* needed help filling out the FAFSA form.  She could not submit it without a PIN.  I gave her some directions in hopes that it would work.  But Ellen’s story made me worry about her education.  She lived with her sister in an unstable home.  She held a part-time job and received almost no help from other family members to pay car insurance.  She does not know where her parents are.  Ellen wanted to go to a local community college and become a nurse.  She also wanted to live in her own apartment so she could focus on school and her life.  I was afraid that if Ellen did not complete the FAFSA successfully she would not go to college and become a nurse.  Even after I left South Robeson that day I continued to worry.  I knew a teacher was assisting her but I could not help but to wonder if the FAFSA would be completed; students with low-income depend on FAFSA to receive aid from schools.  Then a couple of weeks later I was going through the McDonald’s drive-thru when I saw Ellen working the window.  I wish you could have seen the grin on her face!  Immediately she said, “I got my FAFSA filled out and turned it in!”  She said that to me before she said “Hey, how you doing?”  I was so happy for her!  I know that if she thought to tell me that right when she seen me, I must have had some small but great influence on her.  She wanted to tell me her good news!  It was moments like these that made my internship worthwhile!
I also spoke to the NASA club at Fairmont High, the school I graduated from!  This was really fun because I saw former teachers and friends.  Surprisingly, speaking at this school did not have a great impact on me as speaking at the other schools.  I did feel like I reached out to someone but I guess it was the feeling of being back in high school that got to me.  Good news is, Fairmont High also has a Gates Millennium Semi-finalist!
A task that was a long process was helping to plan the American Indian Women’s Conference.  This conference brought American Indian Women from different tribes and states to come together and celebrate being the strong native women that we are!  I believe I did a lot at this conference and added to my network of mentors, advisors, and possible recommenders or sources for internships!  First I had to clean gourds.  A gourd is similar to squash but large with hard skin.  The Lumbee Indians used gourds for many different things years ago.  Now many Lumbees grow them and use them as decorations or ornaments.  But cleaning gourds is not fun at all!  They can get very dirty sometimes but I had to clean them, with Mr. Kenny, to give them back their natural caramel brown color.  Then Mr. Kenny cut holes in them and Mr. Herman used them as tabletops for the conference tables.  He placed beautiful camellias in them with bear grass.  It was really beautiful.  I also had to help set up the tables, clean the tables, run little tasks, and help facilitate talking circles.  I didn’t mind this at all because I met wonderful people.  I guess the conference was a reward to me for interning at the Indian Education Center!  But I did serve on a panel.  The panel was called: Transition From High School to College.  There was a student that went to the local university, one that went to university close to home (the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and one that goes to a college far way (which was me!)!  At the panel I spoke not only to local high school students but students from schools all over the state!  I guess some heard about me before because some came up to me and asked me questions about Gates and Dartmouth!
There are so many things I could tell you about my internship.  It was really the best time of my life.  I was at home with my family and  friends but also giving back to a place that has given so much to me.  I met wonderful people!  Ms. Kathy Dae, Mr. Kenny, and Ms. Rita are true blessings from God!  They became part of my family.  I learned so much about myself and just how much ability and opportunity I have!  And I have so many people who will support me!  I did not build a house for the homeless or provided healthcare for the sick.  And if I did not touch the lives of many students, I know I touched at least one.  I did something that I did not think I could do.  I made a difference!  Who knows if my words or if my obvious concern for one’s education did not make someone rethink dropping out of school or did not make someone apply to college who had no intentions of doing so.  I don’t know how great or how small a difference I made with the Indian Education Center but I know I made one.  And when I came to Dartmouth Partners in Community Service, I came to back a difference.  And through their help and the blessing of God, I made one!  Now, I will not stop here.  I will continue to go back to my hometown and be active with children in different programs and help high school students.  I will do my best to make a trip to at least one school every time I am home!