JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Susan Ninham shares views on education
Thanks to Red Lake tribal member Susan Ninham, educator, healthcare administrator and doctoral candidate, for providing meaningful information to help students find success. Along with several graduate degrees and a degree from BSU, she is a 1978 graduate of Red Lake High School.
Q: Who were the early positive influences on your life?
A: The early positive influences in my life were my parents Peter and Theresa Neadeau, my oldest brother Roger Neadeau, Sr. (first high school graduate in our family) and teachers Mrs. Anne Nelson and Mrs. Jeanne Lokken and teaching assistant Juliene Needham.
Q: Was education an important part of your life early on?
A: Yes. Because both of my parents didn’t graduate from high school, they emphasized the importance of earning a high school diploma, attending school daily, to do my best to earn A's and be kind to others. They emphasized how important education is for earning a living financially.
Q: How would you describe your schooling experience?
A: I had a varied school experience attending both public and parochial schools in Red Lake and Flandreau Indian School. In elementary school I had good learning experiences. I was an advanced student and didn't have access to advanced classes in high school after returning from Flandreau.
Q: When did you first realize that your culture was a significant part of your life?
A: I always knew language, culture and history are important to who I am as an Anishinaabe woman. My parents were fluent Ojibwe language speakers who hunted, gathered, fished, trapped, gardened and logged for our family's sustenance and subsistence. They both were very spiritual and prayed for our family, especially at meal times. They impressed upon us the importance of living a good life and being good Anishinaabeg.
Q: When did you decide to pursue education beyond high school and why?
A: When I was in fourth and ninth grades, my teachers and teacher’s assistant recognized my advanced academic performance and they all encouraged me to go to college after high school. They said with my ability I could do anything I wanted. I went to college to earn a degree to make a difference by providing service in our community through education for others.
Q: What advice can you give young people about the need to complete high school?
A: A high school diploma or GED opens doors to many opportunities for earning a financial living and being able to have options for advanced education and training to continue to climb the ladder of a successful working and/or a professional career.
Q: What advice can you give teachers of Native American students that would help their students complete high school?
A: My advice is to build and nurture a high quality professional supportive and caring relationship. Be available to discuss students' questions or concerns that may be barriers or challenges. Be present and provide access to available resources to ease concerns. Show them you care. Be invested in their success. Be firm, fair and consistent with guidance on the best path to success holistically. Recognize and acknowledge their performance routinely.
Q: What do you think are the reasons for a low graduation rate for Native American students?
A: Our students begin to dropout around third grade when the rigor of reading, writing and math gets frustrating because they may not be prepared to meet this challenge. Most curricula does not help teachers understand how to not leave children behind. Each year a child does not know or understand the basic reading, writing and math skills they fall further behind and are affected psychologically. Parents who had similar experiences may allow their child to drop out.
Q: What advice do you have for white teachers who choose to teach in schools with a high percentage of Native American students?
A: Teachers who are not Native American do not have the lived experiences in tribal communities. Therefore, they need to acknowledge they have an implicit bias and then to do something to eradicate that bias is critical to their success. Know how to earn respect, trust and love for and from the stakeholders. Learning about and emphasizing the importance of tribal language, culture, history and social norms is important for making connections and building relationships. Do not discount students' lived experiences but use them as a basis for making new healthier experiences.
Q: What advice do you have for parents and grandparents of Native American children that would help their kids complete school?
A: My parents encouraged, supported and expected me to go to school daily and do the best of my ability without causing harm to myself or others. They set a goal for me to graduate high school. After high school they expected me to find work and wait to marry and have children when I had a home for a family.
Q: There is also a high dropout rate for Native American students completing college. What more can colleges do to help these students complete their course of study?
A: When I went to college I was enrolled in an education support program with other Native American students for one year. We enrolled in the same classes taught by the same instructors. One of the classes was life skills that taught us how to manage the higher education system and access available resources like tutoring, scheduling, financial aid, housing, transportation, counseling and extra curricular activities. We also had a designated space where we could meet socially.
Riddle: What time is it when the clock strikes 13? (Answer: Time to get it fixed.) Susan has given us good advice about how we can fix education so it is better for all students.
I will be at the Paul and Babe lakefront handing out free homeschooling tips for parents on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m. Also, citizens can sign a petition to support 100%.
John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.