“It’s like family”: ECA graduates tell their stories

“It’s like family”: ECA graduates tell their stories

It’s graduation season—the time of the year when years of hard work finally pay off for students with a walk across the graduation stage to receive their diplomas. It’s a time to celebrate perseverance and achievement, self-discipline and tenacity. Graduates everywhere pause to look back and reflect, and to cast their gazes toward the future.

For many members of NAYA’s Early College Academy’s (ECA) Class of 2019, the path to reaching this milestone wasn’t always clear. In fact, overcoming obstacles that would cause many other students to give up became a common thread in our graduates’ stories when we sat down to talk to them recently.

For example, before finding the ECA, many students felt disempowered to advocate for themselves in large schools that provided very little individualized support. If a family emergency or a medical condition caused them to fall behind, it was difficult to identify teachers or counselors who could help them catch up and stay on track.

Oftentimes, Native students felt “othered” by peers and teachers who were unfamiliar with their culture. Recent ECA graduate Faydra Cawley states, “Most of my schooling up until this point has been in very white communities. I was probably like the only Native student at my elementary school.”

This feeling of being isolated due to cultural differences was often made even worse when peers and teachers challenged their identities directly. “If I was in other schools and I said that I was Native, people would judge me and say that I don’t look like it…basically accuse me of not being it,” explains Brooklyn Walker. Shockingly, being on the receiving end of such offensive comments and behaviors is all too common for many Native students.

For some, these unnecessary stressors caused students to seek out the NAYA Early College Academy to provide a better high school experience. And as this year’s graduates can attest, the NAYA ECA delivered. According to Paje Wiklund-Hall, “It’s interesting. It’s more open. The old high school teachers felt like strangers. Here? It felt like family, even the principal.”

Cawley states, “Being here is just completely different. Even though it isn’t an all-Native school it’s still very Native-based, which was a nice change from what I had been used to. Your culture is not some spectacle. You’re not the token Native in the school.”

And Walker agrees, “I felt like myself here. I didn’t have to explain myself.”

The ECA prides itself on giving students the individualized attention they need to succeed. Cawley, Walker, and Wiklund-Hall all agreed that this was a critical factor in their ability to graduate.

For example, Wiklund-Hall says, “Once I came here during my junior year, there was a big difference. I was able to make up at least five different credits in one year. It’s like family. It’s people who will love and support you and make sure you graduate. There are so many programs here that kids should come and actually get that support.”

Cawley elaborates, “This is a really good environment. You can really individualize the way you get to do your schooling. And that is something I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

“I’ve always had the attention I needed, the help,” Walker agrees. “Teachers are here to help you. They just became part of a family to me. They just care.”

Now, after having had their perception of “school” radically transformed—from a negative, non-welcoming experience to one where educators and students work together—members of the NAYA ECA Class of 2019 look toward a future that includes post-secondary education.

Walker intends on going to community college, but hasn’t decided which and Cawley states, “I’m starting PCC in the fall. I also plan to hopefully to start online courses from the University of Southern New Hampshire along with that. I want to be a certified child psychologist.”

But along with these aspirations come the concerns of soaring tuitions and of the ability to pay for increasingly more expensive degrees. Cawley states, “I saw how much the degree was, about forty to sixty thousand. And that’s just for your first three years.”

NAYA’s model of service delivery has always been to provide long-term, wraparound support to those we work with, including our students. For ECA graduates, this entails continuing to support their academic journeys even after high school graduation.

The Early College Academy Scholarship Fund provides financial assistance to ECA graduates in need.

Statistically, most of our students and their families lack the resources to pay for a college degree. Without financial aid, including the scholarships that NAYA provides, they would not be able to continue their education.

Statistically, most of our students and their families lack the resources to pay for a college degree. Without financial aid, including the scholarships that NAYA provides, they would not be able to continue their education.

We know our support makes a difference. NAYA relies on community support to help our youth achieve their dreams of going to college.

By donating today you will be providing students like Cawley, Walker, and Wiklund-Heller with financial resources to buy books and pay for tuition. You will demonstrate that the NAYA family they have come to trust continues to believe in them.

And more importantly, you will be giving hope. “Donating the money and supporting these kids…” Wiklund-Hall voice trails off before tearfully continuing, “I don’t get support a lot. I had friends drop out because they didn’t see that they had a future. We need support.”

Will you consider contributing to the ECA Scholarship Fund today?