Dozens of people gathered Saturday to honor and celebrate a successful year of Native student achievement.
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Educators, family and friends spent Saturday afternoon in the Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School gymnasium for the 2006 Indian Studies Johnson O'Malley Program Celebration. They gave awards to graduating seniors and students advancing to middle school and high school. Graduation for the Juneau School District class of 2006 is Sunday, June 4.
"They've done really well this year, our seniors," said Les Hamley, a counselor and tutor at the high school for the Johnson O'Malley Program run by Tlingit and Haida Central Council. "We have about 81 (Native) seniors graduating."
Rhonda Hickok, an administrator for the Juneau School District, said the class of 2006 has one of the largest number of Native graduates the district has ever had.
"It shows that our kids have tenacity," she said. "They're awesome. They're here, they're wanting their diplomas, they're wanting to graduate and so they're persevering."
Gabe Meachum, an 18-year-old senior at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School, said he is excited to be graduating at the beginning of next month.
"I never thought I would do it, but time just flies by," he said. "Here it is and there's just a couple of class days left until I graduate."
Meachum said it was worth the effort to get a diploma and encouraged others to keep pursuing their education.
"I would say just stick with it and try and tough it out, even if you only have four credits left," he said. "You still got to get those 21 credits."
Yaakoosge Principal Laury Scandling was spoken of highly and also honored with an award at the ceremony for her efforts to help increase the graduation rate in the district.
Graduating senior Charles Carroll said attending the alternative high school made a big difference in his education success.
"I've just been working hard all year," he said. "If I wouldn't have come to Yaakoosge I wouldn't be graduating."
Carroll also said family helped get him through school.
"My mom had a big part in it," he said. "She always woke me up in the morning when I didn't want to wake up."
Hamley said it is fulfilling as an educator to see the students make it through the system.
"Graduation is the culmination of school, so it makes everybody feel good when they see the kids graduating," he said. "They've spent 12 or 13 years in the system, and this is a stepping stone for something else in their life."
Eric Morrison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.