Students, staff and faculty in Cornell's American Indian Program (AIP) are helping high school students in LaFayette Central Schools to succeed, with a weekly tutoring program that began this semester. The goals are to establish relationships as mentors to the younger Native American students and help open the way for them to go on to college.
"We wanted people from AIP, or affiliated with the program, so [the LaFayette students] have a feeling of connection. It's good for them to have people to identify with," says Kakwireiosta Hall, residence hall director of Akwe:kon, a Cornell residence and community center that celebrates American Indian heritage.
The tutoring program is voluntary for LaFayette students in grades 9-12 and is offered for two hours on Wednesday afternoons after school. Many of those who use it don't sign up, they just show up. They take advantage of the late-afternoon program as a structured study and homework time, either individually or together.
"If one student gets it, they will help the others," says volunteer tutor Aviva Horowitz '10, a Cayuga majoring in development sociology and minoring in American Indian studies.
"I come here to get my homework done -- I usually don't do it at home," says LaFayette 10th-grader Calvin Thomas of Nedrow, who was reading his English class assignment, the Vietnam memoir "If I Die in a Combat Zone" by Tim O'Brien, at a recent Wednesday session.
The LaFayette school district has about a 23 percent Native enrollment, drawing from the nearby Onondaga Nation.
"It's been successful in the eyes of many, because the teachers have been asking about it, and they're liking the fact that the students have somewhere to go," says Danielle Rourke, Native American liaison and school counselor at the high school. "It's a large Native population here, so we're always looking for avenues for our kids to be successful."
So far, the LaFayette program has attracted from two to seven tutors from Cornell each week. Planning for the tutoring program started at Cornell last spring; weekly visits to LaFayette began Oct. 3 and continue through Dec. 5. The program is currently supported by a Cornell faculty member, and funding is being sought to continue it beyond this semester.
A group of LaFayette students will visit Cornell Nov. 27 as one of their school's Native American Heritage Month activities.
"We like to establish and maintain relationships with local native communities," says Hall, a Mohawk/Cherokee and a LaFayette graduate who has previously tutored homebound high school students in the district. She encouraged AIP students to become tutors this semester.
Hall also coordinates other programming in Akwe:kon to share Native American culture both on and off campus, including recent trips to the New York State Fair, a powwow at Akwesasne, the Canandaigua Treaty commemoration and the Ganondagan historic site in Victor.
"A lot of these trips are enhancing our own experience on campus, even at a Cornell-Syracuse lacrosse game," Hall says.