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Departments collaborate in Open House initiative

By Naji Tobias

BIG CYPRESS — Three Tribal departments from Big Cypress hosted their annual Open House for the reservation’s public and private school students on Sept. 6.

Held inside the Frank Billie Tribal Field Office, Tribal students and their parents took a tour of the Big Cypress Education Department’s Learning Resource Center, the Willie E. Frank Library and the Big Cypress Culture Department’s culture room.

With more than 60 Tribal citizens in attendance, they received information about the Education Department’s amenities, which include SAT/ACT exam preparation help, job placement assistance, computer training courses and ways to obtain a GED diploma.

Big Cypress Education Adviser Carine Eugene, who hosted the dinner segment of the Open House function, discussed the collaborative efforts of the Education, Library and Culture Departments in an attempt to reach the Tribal youth constituency. Eugene noted that a “family feel” was evident throughout the function.

“We’re here to share all that we have with the community and the youth,” Eugene said. “It was an opportunity for the kids who go to different private and public schools to mingle with each other. They don’t get to do that often during the week. It was good to see them all spend some time together.”

At the Willie E. Frank Library, the Tribal youth and their parents received a tour of the variety of books they can sign out and borrow. In addition, the Tribal kids played a few games and took pleasure in making sand art bracelets, a creative item that each participant took home after the event’s conclusion.

“We wanted to show our kids a new perspective of what we do here,” then-Big Cypress Library site manager Barbara Oeffner said. “The kids were well-behaved and seemed very at home. We didn’t want to make it feel too formal. It’s something they noticed and liked a lot.”

The Big Cypress Library includes a weekly story-time session for the Big Cypress Preschool students, a variety of educational field trips for Tribal youngsters and periodic visits from Tribal and non-Tribal poets, painters and artists.

“Reading is our primary concern,” Oeffner said. “We try to support that and help them with their education as much as we possibly can.”

Big Cypress Culture’s Victor Billie spoke about the Culture Department’s segment of the Open House initiative.

“We ask our kids what they want to learn about their own culture,” Billie said. “We teach them whatever they want to know. Culture is in me and when I teach the kids about our culture, I learn something from them, too.”

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