Students make brave investments in their futures with NAYA’s Re-engagement Program

Students make brave investments in their futures with NAYA’s Re-engagement Program

June is traditionally the time of year when we mark the milestone of graduation. From kindergarten through advanced degrees, we celebrate the academic achievements of our students of all ages and look to their brighter futures. Since its inception in 2007, more than 100 seniors have graduated from our alternative high school, the Many Nations Academy. As we prepare to celebrate the class of 2022 this month, we want to acknowledge the courageous efforts of the participants in our newest academic service, NAYA’s Educational Re-engagement Program*, supporting students in their goal of receiving their high school diplomas or GEDs.

Education opens doors. Unfortunately for many students, life’s obstacles get in the way. Family needs, health issues, and lack of support are some of the reasons that students leave school. In response to the higher drop-out rates experienced by Native students, NAYA is pleased to offer our Educational Re-engagement Program, providing the individualized support and encouragement that is proving to be quite successful.

Potential participants can be referred to the program by several institutions, such as Oregon Youth Authority, the Department of Human Services, a federally-recognized tribe, and others. Program eligibility is as follows:

  • Youth ages 14–21 who are defined as a dropout and are not exempt from attending public school under Oregon state law.
  • Youth ages 14–21 who are not enrolled in school, and have not earned a high school diploma or GED.
  • Youth ages 16–21 who are enrolled in a public high school, initially enrolled in high school one or more years prior, and have earned 3 or more credits fewer than the expected number of credits to be earned based on the duration of enrollment.

There is also limited space available for youth 21–24 who don’t meet the program’s general criteria.

Once accepted, participants can obtain a high school diploma or GED. The time commitment is flexible to fit participants’ lives, and while taking GED prep classes with partner Mount Hood Community College, students can earn their GED in as little as ten weeks. With supports like one-on-one coaching, tutoring, test preparation, childcare, technology assistance, and college and career coaching, the program can truly be life changing.

NAYA’s Educational Engagement Coordinator Becca Gruner (Kumeyaay) said the focus of the program is to help people who are disconnected or who are at risk of disconnecting with education get re-engaged, but NAYA also hopes that such efforts will help destigmatize the GED as a more than viable solution for attaining grade school certification needed for employment and higher education opportunities.

NAYA launched the program in January 2021, and in August 2021, our first student earned their GED. At the time of this writing, 14 participants are currently enrolled, including four students who have graduated and are continuing in the program to receive follow-up services.

Here are some of their stories:

Twenty-year-old Tee’wis’ decided to obtain their GED alongside the realization that they had the ability to live independently. The program’s supports pushed them to keep on track with their goals. “Hyper independence is a trauma response, so being able to do things for myself while receiving help was beautiful,” they said. Tee’wis’ said the biggest obstacle they overcame during the process was personal accountability for their own success. Being able to pursue a GED at their own pace was an immense help, they said. Tee’wis’ urges others to chase their dreams—take challenges day-by-day, try not to be too hard on yourself, stay focused on whatever you decide to put your energy toward, and keep your head up!

Tee’wis’ was the first GED graduate for the program last summer. They have been an amazing role model, going as far as making a video encouraging other students to stay on track. “They are a kind and dedicated individual with so much self-awareness. Not only has Tee’wis’ earned their GED, but they are receiving support from NAYA wraparound services to help them get started at a community college this summer. We look forward to continuing working with Tee’wis’ and cannot wait to see what they continue to accomplish,” Gruner said.

Another 20-year-old student, who requested anonymity, said their partner encouraged them to finish their schooling to explore more job opportunities that require a high school diploma or GED. Staying motivated and on task when studying for math and other tests were among their biggest challenges. This student was working a full-time job while while earning their GED. The program’s flexibility and individualized services helped them keep up with attendance and obtain their GED in two months, despite personal barriers.

And lastly, Raina, also 20 years old, sought out the program when she became pregnant. She said she wanted to be able to tell her child that she pursued her education, which she hopes will lead to a well-paying job and a good life for herself and her little one. Raina noted that she had to manage priorities effectively to see the program through to its end, as she continued to work while attending to her health.

“I was working almost full-time every week, but education was a priority. I was so tired when I came home and on weekends, but I still buckled down and did it,” Raina said. “You can do anything. Anything is possible once you put your mind to it. You’re smarter than you think. I was only in school until 10th grade, and I passed all my tests while juggling work and a social life. You can do it, too!”

Gruner said Raina entered NAYA’s Educational Re-engagement Program in January 2022 with big goals. She wanted to complete her GED before her due date in several months. Throughout her time studying for the GED tests, she was open and honest about what was working and what wasn’t so she could work with staff to adjust. Raina remained positive and trusted that NAYA would find what worked for her. When she passed her final test, the staff were ecstatic; Raina was filled with pride!

NAYA offers a breadth of comprehensive services and community-based solutions, including lifelong educational opportunities. These students made the decision to complete their educational goals. With the help of NAYA’s Educational Re-engagement Program, their journeys toward a promising future were made possible.

Visit our Re-engagement Program webpage for more information on eligibility.

*Major funding for NAYA’s Education Re-engagement Program comes from Oregon State Youth Development Division’s (YDD) Re-engagement Opportunity Grant