Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


June 16, 2001 - Issue 38



Young Indian Pupils Gear Up for Success in ASU Program


 by Mel Melendez The Arizona Republic


Harold Evans, 12, cuts cardboard for a boat during science class at ASU East's GEAR-UP Summer Residential Program.
Photo by Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic

The elementary school students from the Gila River Indian Community sprawled on the floor of the Arizona State University East campus' Academic Center, working on 100-piece jigsaw puzzles.

Rules dictated that several students remain silent and others use only one hand to assemble parts, helping the youngsters understand the value of teamwork.

"It's a monkey," 11-year-old Brian Nash gushed, pointing to the connected pieces that revealed a chimp's eyes. "Cool."

The exercise, designed to demonstrate how communication affects goals, is one of various exploratory projects offered through ASU East's GEAR-UP Summer Residential Program. The 2-year old program aims to inspire American Indian students to remain in school.

By Friday, when the youths' two-week stint at the Mesa campus ends, the 25 Sacaton School pupils will have created a newsletter using PowerPoint and PageMaker and built balloon rockets and paddleboats to demonstrate Newton's law of action and reaction.

"Too many Native American students don't make it to college, and those who do oftentimes drop out," said Phillip Huebner, director of ASU East's American Indian Programs department. "They're also grossly underrepresented in the fields of science, math, engineering and technology. We're trying to change that by building students' confidence in succeeding academically."

Since 1998, from 946 to 992 American Indian students enrolled annually at ASU campuses. In comparison, only 136 students in 1998, 280 in 1999 and 450 in 2000 graduated.

The high attrition rate isn't unique to Arizona. Nationally only 52 percent of American Indian students finish high school, 17 percent attend college and 4 percent graduate with a bachelor's degree, according to the American Indian Digest.

Much of the problem stems from the poverty on Indian reservations, where 75 percent of the workforce earns less than $7,000 annually, said Huebner, GEAR-UP's creator.

"The school systems are poor, so they lack many of the necessary resources that help children excel," he said. "Even valedictorians from Native American high schools often drop out because they can't handle the college work."

Involving reservation children in on-campus projects could encourage them to enroll in college later, said Suzie Roderick, communications instructor.

"These are bright kids. They just need encouragement and support," Roderick said.

The program costs about $600 per student and is covered by a federal grant, the Arizona Community Foundation and ASU, Huebner said. Students will be tracked through high school to gauge the program's success, he added.

During a recent break, Shelly Rivers, 11, sat at a computer, doing research on the Internet while simultaneously "conversing" on

"I love computers. I'm going to get one soon," Shelly said. "It'll help me with my homework because I'm going to college."

The mission of GEAR UP is to significantly increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in postsecondary education


Now you can see where the Gila River Indian Community is!!

Maps by Travel




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