Sept. 25, 2008 At first, it was like attending school on another
place had "literally hundreds of miles of green fields," wrote April-Sky
Johnston, Diné from Santa Fe, NM, in an essay about the experience.
"To find dirt anywhere was a challenging mission."
the Navajos realized they were the aliens.
(other students) asked us questions like, 'Do you still live in
teepees?' 'Do you wear normal clothes?'" recalled Autumn Brown of
the ubiquitous, "Are you a real Native American?"
were so amazed they were in the presence of a Navajo," Brown wrote.
"I was told I looked like Pocahontas."
the classes ... they were the strangest of all.
encountered the 'Harkness' method of teaching," wrote Johnston.
"Here there is a round table big enough to seat 13 people, which
includes the teacher. Class sizes do not go over this amount."
contrast to the lecture format the students were familiar with at
their BIA and public schools back home, these classes were interactive
- everyone shared equally on a topic.
eventually, the students learned that kids are kids - even when
they come from places like Ghana, Turkey and Memphis, Tenn. - and
school is school.
the weeks went by, it got easier and more fun," wrote Claudelle
Rae Jim of Chinle. "Then out of nowhere, week five is already here
and it's time to pack up and go home."
this was not another planet, even if it might as well have been.
It was Phillips-Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH, one of the oldest
and best college preparatory schools in the country.
Jim and Brown were among 14 Native American students participating
in the prestigious school's summer Native American Program, which
has provided more than 250 Natives a glimpse of the preppie life
since it was founded in 1985 by an Exeter alum living in Tucson.
tuition, room and board at Exeter's summer program can run up to
$6,000, the Navajo students don't pay a cent. The school covers
75 percent of their costs and the tribe picks up the rest.
have to go through a selective admissions process, which includes
a review of their grades, recommendation letters from faculty members
at their junior high or high school, and an essay.
past summer, the 13 Diné who attended the program had an added treat:
one of their own on the faculty.
Crank, 22, originally from Dennehotso, Ariz., was a teaching intern
for the journalism class. She's an Exeter alum and the school's
first Navajo intern.
was really good for me, because I've been wanting to become a teacher
and get some experience," Crank said, "but I think it was also good
for the kids that I was there."
example, Crank was able to tell the other faculty why the Native
kids were having trouble adapting to the interactive Harkness method.
would be like, 'Why are the Native kids so quiet?'" Crank recalled.
"I told them that they're coming from a culture where being quiet
is a sign of respect - you don't butt in and interrupt people, and
you wait until you really know what you want to say before you say
she worked the other side of the fence, coaching the kids when they
met for Native American Club.
say, 'Look, you're not at Grandma's house. You don't have to be
so quiet,'" she said.
Native American Club advisor, Crank planned fun activities for the
students, like attending a local powwow and cooking beef stew and
fry bread for their classmates.
as a former rez girl herself, she also knew it could be their only
chance to be exposed to some Ivy League colleges.
called Yale, Dartmouth and Harvard," she said. "I got the Native
recruiter from Harvard to come and talk to the kids. I just wanted
to get them thinking, 'This is in reach; I can do this if I want
high percentage of Exeter alumni do go on to attend an Ivy League
who has a bachelor's degree in communications and currently works
with Mesa, Ariz., school district's Native American Program, said
her ambitions rose along with the teens'.
definitely going to go on and get my master's now, maybe even my
doctorate," she said. "I'd like to come back to the reservation
has already asked her to come back and work with the Native students
next summer, and she has been asked to accompany an Exeter recruiter
to reservations in Arizona next February.
now, they're only recruiting in Chinle and Window Rock when they
come to Navajo," Crank said. "I'm going to try to steer her to Kayenta
and Shiprock, too, so more students know about this program and
get excited about it."