Kelsey Freeman had noticed one of her students was fairly quiet at the start of the term a couple years ago, but she gradually got more interested in the class.
"We were doing a project around current events in Warm Springs that she got really interested in," Freeman says of the student in The Good Road class through Central Oregon Community College. "Then we did a campus visit to the Bend COCC campus and did a bunch of workshops there, and she just seemed to blossom during that campus visit and was like, 'I want to come to COCC.'"
That same student is now a freshman at COCC. She lives in the Bend campus dorms and is very involved in the First Nations Student Union.
"I see her often here on campus," said Freeman, the Native American College Prep coordinator at COCC.
This is just one of many success stories of The Good Road, a college-prep course offered in local high schools that prepare Native American students for success in high school, college and beyond. The goal is for the students to ultimately obtain a rewarding career and contribute to their communities.
A grant from Meyer Memorial Trust kickstarted the program, which began in the fall of 2018. Each year, Freeman teaches the course to roughly 15 Native American students at Madras High School, five at Bridges High School, and five at ROOTS in Warm Springs, the online credit recovery classes for MHS students who are not on track to graduate with their original class.
The Good Road emphasizes academic success strategies, leadership development, and cultural knowledge and pride. The classes also introduce students to college resources, scholarship writing and financial literacy for success in college or wherever their paths may lead.
Freeman teaches the classes through the COCC Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Human Development Departments in partnership with the Jefferson County School District 509-J. The Good Road I is offered each fall, and The Good Road II is offered in the spring. The class format and times vary at each school, but students can receive both high school and college credit.
"A lot of students that I've worked with through the class really want to use college as a vehicle to serve, to come back home and serve their communities, serve the reservation, if they live on the reservation, in some way, but they don't always know what that looks like," Freeman said.
It's hard for some students to know what opportunities and resources are available to support them.
"My job is connecting students with those resources, connecting them with people from Warm Spring or that have forged paths ahead of them and helping serve as a bridge so students can see ways in which their people have done it," Freeman said.
The Good Road is part career exploration, resources and scholarships, how to make college work for them, and how to balance college emotionally.
"How do I balance college with my responsibilities with my family or with my community and what does it mean to fit all those pieces together?" Freeman explained.
The program seems to be reaching its goal.
All students who have attended The Good Road course have graduated from high school, and 60 to 75% go on to college, which is higher than the state average for Native students.
"Almost all my students say it made them either decide to go to college or more inclined to go to college and made them feel more connected with Native affairs and Native students at school," Freeman said. "It's been good to see those successes."
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