Colby students pitch college to Indian kids

Posted March 25, 2009, at 9:22 p.m.

INDIAN TOWNSHIP, Maine — College is a place to learn, but it also can be fun.

That was the message that students from Colby College conveyed Wednesday to students at the Indian Township Elementary School.

This is the second year that the Collaborative Early Awareness Program has been at Indian reservation schools. The program also includes students from Bates and Bowdoin colleges — although on Wednesday it was just an enthusiastic bunch of Colby students.

The goal of the program is to encourage elementary and junior high students to attend college. Wabanaki youngsters get to go to college for free. Wabanaki is a group of eastern American Indian tribes, including Passamaquoddys, Micmacs, Penobscots and Maliseets in Maine.

The Colby students were in Houlton with Maliseets and Micmacs on Tuesday. They were expected at Pleasant Point today with Passamaquoddys and at Indian Island with the Penobscot Nation on Friday.

Wayne Newell, director of bilingual education at Indian Township, said that in order to inspire kids to attend college, Maine Indian educators, including Newell, began a dialogue with Colby, Bates and Bowdoin colleges a few years ago to encourage their students to interact with native youngsters.

“To give our kids early exposure to what college life would be like and what you have to prepare for,” he said. “And it gives the [college] students that are coming here a chance to interact with the Native community to see what life is like here and what are our concerns and how the kids perceive the world.”

Newell remembers when Indians weren’t encouraged to attend college. “There were zero in my day,” he said. “In 40 years we’ve made a lot of progress. It is now the expected thing.”

Newell said he was one of four Indian students to graduate from high school. “I was one of the largest graduating classes in the early 1960s from high school,” he said.

In recent years there has been a new philosophy, and Indian kids are encouraged to attended college. There are about 20 Passamaquoddy students in college right now, Newell added. “Our kids are finally back on that train and that is good,” he said.

During class time on Wednesday, students from grades four through eight had a chance to interact with the Colby students.

And what a fun day.

Ozzy Ramirez, a Colby senior from New York City, drew the shy and giggling youngsters into the Ice Breaker Game — a form of musical chairs without the music. He was assisted by Jenny Dean a junior from Wellesley, Mass., Kelsey Potdevin, a senior from Juneau, Alaska, who is half Athabascan Indian, and Leslie Hutchings, a sophomore from Great Falls, Va.

The youngsters then watched a short video about Colby College.

After that there was a problem-solving exercise.

Ramirez told the story of a sinking boat with six people on board and only one two-person life raft. The students then were introduced to the six people who included a pregnant woman and a researcher, who had developed a theory that could possibly save the world. The third person was an oncologist with an expertise in chil-dren’s cancer. There also was a software technician, a young single man and a congressman from Alaska who worked on projects for the Inuit Indians.

Once the pretend people were introduced, the students broke into small groups to decide who should be saved. Then they were given the job of convincing their fellow classmates to agree with their choice. That led to a healthy and enthusiastic exchange among the students.

Pupil Dylan Newell was loquacious in his efforts to convince his fellow students to support the researcher. “She is going to save the world,” he argued.

But another student wasn’t buying it. He favored the software technician. “There won’t be any video games [if he dies],” he insisted.

“I’d rather keep the world than have video games,” Newell responded.

Soon it was time to decide.

The pregnant woman was chosen first, but who got to sit in the second seat remained unresolved — there didn’t appear to be any clear winner.

The Colby students went from classroom to classroom with their program.

Afterward the college students said they were pleased with the results.

“I feel like today went really well,” said Jake Obstfeld, a senior from New Rochelle, N.Y. “It was a little rushed. We didn’t have time between the classes to reorganize, but I feel we were prepared enough that it didn’t matter.”

Potdevin of Alaska said that they had to abbreviate some of the activities. “It was kind of a bummer when kids still had questions at the end and we had to kind of rush off to the next class. Because you know there is interest in college so you just kind of want to spark it and keep it going and hopefully they will use the informa-tion we’ve given them,” she said.

bdncalais@myfairpoint.net

454-8228

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