Celebrating and committing to education

Our tribe held a celebration on June 24 that was both heart-warming and congratulatory — our annual tribal graduation celebration.

It was inspiring to see so many young and eager tribal students ready to move forward into the next chapter of their lives. As a tribe, we take great pride in providing an environment through our Education Department that encourages and supports personal, academic and professional growth.

Our Education Department first began in the early 1990s as an ad hoc program organized by former Vice-chairman Richard Gomez. During that first year, three tribal students participated in the program and were shuttled to Dunn School in Los Olivos where Dunn students tutored our younger tribal students.

Since then, our Education Department has grown into a program that benefits the entire tribal community. The Education Committee, composed of seven elected tribal members, works with Education Director Dr. Niki Sandoval to guide strategic educational investments in our tribe’s community members.

As a result of our tribe’s investment in academic support, we experienced a 100-percent high school graduation rate in 2017, significantly higher than the state average.

In addition, our recent high school graduates are enrolled in the following four-year universities — American Musical and Dramatic Academy, Azusa Pacific, Becker College, California Lutheran University, California State University East Bay, University of Denver, UC Irvine, Liberty University, and San Jose State University.

Furthermore, our commitment to education has resulted in the number of college graduates in our tribe tripling in the last eight years.

In 2017, 11 tribal students graduated from a university, one received an MD, five received Master’s degrees and five received Bachelor’s degrees. Also, four tribal students earned their Associate’s degrees and are transferring into a Bachelor’s program at a four-year university in this academic year.

Currently, there are 48 tribal students enrolled in 41 universities in 16 states, entering either as freshman, transfers or continuing work on their degrees.

Our Education Department was started by our tribal community decades ago and continues to embrace our youth and families in the whole continuum of life from birth through career. By providing academic support, opportunities for learning, academic planning, as well as support for career transitions, we ensure that our members are constantly learning and gaining knowledge that will help them in whatever path they pursue.

Our tribe has always valued education and had a love for learning. learning from our elders, from teachers and professors and from each other. Our commitment to invest in education sends a powerful message to our community members that they are worth the investment and we believe in them.

It was gratifying to see so many young faces at the tribal graduation celebration, and knowing that everyone in our tribal community was proud of their accomplishments. Clearly, these tribal students value education and know it’s the key to their future.

These tribal graduates are the next generation of leaders and movers and shakers in our community and already have a great start on the road to success. We are all so proud of them.

Raul Armenta is vice-chairman of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

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