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Ahfachkee, PECS students visit governor for Native American Heritage Month event

Gov. Ron DeSantis stands with winning essay contest winners. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

TALLAHASSEE  – Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School and Ahfachkee School students commemorated the end of Native American Heritage Month on Nov. 28 in Tallahassee, where Gov. Ron DeSantis hosted them at a reception in the governor’s mansion.

Native American Heritage Month in the state is a collaboration between the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Volunteer Florida and the Florida Department of Education. It is held in conjunction with the national commemoration month.

The governor spoke about the relationship between the state and the tribe and said the theme for the month was “Celebrating Tribal Sovereignty and Identity” before he introduced Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr.

Budding young artist and PECS second grader Mahala Bishop and Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. stand next to her winning artwork. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“I’m grateful for our friendship and partnership with Governor DeSantis,” Chairman Osceola said. “This has long been needed in the state of Florida and I hope it continues long after we have both left our offices. We have fought long and hard to preserve and protect our sovereignty and identity.”

Chairman Marcellus W. Osceola Jr. attends a Native American Heritage Month reception with Ahfachkee students and teachers in the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee on Nov. 28. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Ahfachkee was represented by 15 students and five teachers; PECS had 13 students and three teachers, including principal Tracy Downing and administrative assistant Michele Thomas.

DeSantis announced the winners of statewide art and essay contests that are part of the heritage month.

At left, PECS principal Tracy Downing and administrative assistant Michele Thomas join students in front of the governor’s mansion before the ceremony with the governor. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

PECS fourth grader Maddox Newkirk won for his essay on the legendary Osceola, a warrior who led the Seminoles during the Second Seminole War.

“I like Osceola. He was a very good leader,” Newkirk said. “It feels amazing to win.”

PECS fifth-grader Dylanie Peak also won an essay award.

Art contest winners included PECS second-grader Mahala Bishop and first-grader Maverick Gabbard.

Essay contest winners received a two year scholarship from the Florida Prepaid Scholarship Foundation and a $100 gift card for school supplies. Art contest winners received a $100 gift card for school supplies and a one-year pass to Florida State Parks.

In addition, four teachers were recognized at the ceremony with the Excellence in Education Award, a contest that is open to all full-time educators in an elementary, middle, or high school in Florida. PECS winners were teachers Eduarda Anselmo, Nicole Platt and Stephanie Tedders.

Gov. Ron DeSantis poses with the winning teachers, from left to right PECS teachers Eduarda Anselmo, Nicole Platt and Stephanie Tedders. At far right is Victoria Gwaltney, who is a teacher at another school. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Florida Department of Education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. congratulated the winners and said, “We acknowledge the vital role Native American Heritage Month plays to preserve the history.”

Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at