The Doctor of Learning Technologies (DELT) program at the Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology (GSEP) has afforded me many personal and professional opportunities, as a result of its unique design and commitment to diversity and the success of all students. With the support from GSEP, my Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma chief Gregory Pyle and tribe, my family, and Greater Native American community, I have had the opportunity to stay connected to my family in Oklahoma, create two organizations that utilize learning technologies to empower Native Americans and other indigenous people in need, attend extracurricular scholarly conferences and meetings throughout the U.S., and connect with other faculty and students during scheduled trips for the program all while staying current with my course work. The DELT program, including the expert and altruistic faculty and staff, has created the space and support for me to journey on the trail to the roots of my existence, plant the seed of who I am, and begin to evolve into what I will become next on the journey to achieving my life’s purpose—for which I am eternally grateful.
Native American Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma Heritage
Over the past several years, the fully accredited Doctor of Learning Technologies program’s hybrid face-to-face 60 percent face-to-face and 40 percent online schedule has afforded me the opportunity to travel to my Native American Choctaw tribal homeland in Oklahoma to support my mom through her cancer treatments and eventual passing last month. These visits were a continuation of previous journeys home over the years to be with my family during important family gatherings. Each time, I was able to reconnect with many family members while conducting an archaeological expedition to “dig up the bones” of my family and cultural history by visiting key Choctaw historical sites.
Choctaw Native American Boarding Schools
Many of the sites that I chose to visit were Choctaw K-12 boarding schools due to my own experience as a K-12 technology teacher and coordinator working in diverse settings, Choctaw heritage, and desire to empower Native American education and communities. One such site is the Wheelock Academy. Wheelock was founded in 1832 to house and educate Native American children that were orphaned as a result of the Choctaw forced removal from Mississippi to Southeastern Oklahoma in 1831. My great-grandmother lived at Wheelock in the early 1900s. Another school that I visited was the Jones Academy, which is a residential school for Native Americans located at the base of the Pocahontas Mountains in the Ouachita Mountain range. It was founded in 1891 by the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and was an all-male school until 1955 when Wheelock was closed and the girls were transferred to Jones. These cultural, family, and historical experiences deeply ingrained within me the profound legacy and responsibility that I have been gifted with as a Choctaw tribal member and educator.
Native American Schools in Need
In contrast to the negative stories about historical Native American schools I was pleased to find a very modern and pleasant residential and educational environment during my visit to the Jones Academy last month. Jones has modern facilities, friendly staff, and many social, health, learning technology infrastructure, and life-skills support programs to ensure the success of the students.
The students are taught using culturally relevant pedagogy with Choctaw history, art, music, language, and dance as a key component to the curriculum.
A comprehensive successful reform model is needed as outlined by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) “Digest of Education Statistics 2008” report that was based on data gathered in 2005 that showed Native Americans have the highest dropout rates of any ethnicity in our country. Additionally, President Obama recently signed the Executive Order on Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Educational Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities. This order reasserts his “cradle to career” commitment to Native American and Alaskan Indian. My visit provided me with a model of what tribal education can be for all Native American children.
Fulfilling my Call to “Purpose, Service, and Leadership”
To serve as a resource to support these educational advancement efforts and in alignment with Pepperdine’s core values of “purpose, service, and leadership,” I have established two organizations that will utilize learning technologies to serve Native American and indigenous communities in need–Integrity Technologies and the Community Empowerment Resource Center (CERCle). The Jones Academy is a stark contrast to my great-grandmother’s and other children’s reported Native American educational experience and a reminder of where we have been, where some tribes still are, and how far we need to go to provide an equitable quality and rigorous education for all Native American students.
Connecting Tribal Education, Policy, and Scholarly Leadership
Less than a month after my visit to the Jones Academy, I was scheduled to fly to Baltimore to receive my award as a Phi Delta Kappan (PDK) Emerging Leader at their annual conference. This award was based in part on my educational technologies leadership, communities-in-need empowerment efforts, and research to support Native American’s civic engagement for the greater good, which are all aligned with Pepperdine’s mission. Similarly, PDK and Phi Lambda Theta (PLT), the most selective honor society of educators (of which I am also a member), seek to advance service, research, and leadership as the most highly regarded educational professional association. To that end, their magazine, The Phi Delta Kappan, is the number one education policy magazine. As I was about to book my flight to Baltimore for the PDK conference, I received an invitation to attend the National Indian Education Association Legislative Summit (NIEA) in Washington, D.C.
Due to the close timing and proximity, I was able to attend both conferences. My previous visits toWheelock and Jones Academy were also timely in informing my visit to the east coast for these two important events.
This journey to the Jones Academy and to the NIEA and PDK conferences occurred during the beginning of my last semester of full-time DELT course work. These events have helped inform my current classes Qualitative Research Methods, Educational Policy, and Ethical Leadership—a tribute to the larger vision of the DELT program. As part of the Native American Legislative Summit, I visited Capitol Hill and attended meetings with key Congressional representatives such as Senators Udall, Akaka, and Inouye; federal office representatives such as Keith Moore, director of the Bureau of Indian Education; and educational leaders such as the vice president of the National Education Association, Lily Eskelsen. During the PDK conference, I attended a keynote speech by U.S. secretary of education, Arne Duncan. These experiences connected me with high-level Native American and non-Native education and legislative leaders and will provide key contacts to support my future learning endeavors to empower others in need, in accordance with Pepperdine GSEP’s mission.
In addition to providing ample information for my educational efforts, my visits to Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore have helped to further inform my doctoral dissertation research topic of utilizing educational technologies to empower Native American community civic engagement for their tribal and the collective greater good. It is my honor and destiny to arrive at the “trail” intersections of my Native American community, my teacher heritage, and my growing identity as a culturally relevant and sensitive researcher, educator, and learning technology professional.
I am honored to help advance a positive educational future for our talented Native American children that can serve as a model for other children and communities in need. I accept my purpose to serve others and nurture the seed of knowledge and cultural heritage that has been planted within me and help to continue to transform the cultural legacy of a trail of tears into one of joy and success for myself and others in need. So, in the words of Chief Sitting Bull, “Let’s put our minds together and see what kind of future we can create for our children.”