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Eighth graders bid farewell to Pemeyetv Emahakv

Eighth graders take their final walk through the halls of PECS May 26 as students and teachers cheer for them. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BRIGHTON — On the final day of school, May 26, eighth graders at Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School took their last walk through the hallways of the school they have known for most of their lives.

They walked past cheering students, staff and family members as they made their way to the gym for the traditional eighth grade farewell. The ceremony included speeches, awards, snacks and a slideshow of the students’ history at school.

Principal Tracy Downing started things off by reminding the students and their families that they were out of school for a year and nine weeks during the pandemic and had to pivot to online classes.

“We were able to provide a really rich, high quality education from afar,” Downing said. “We couldn’t have done that without you parents. You were there with them, you pushed them and partnered with us. We accomplished an incredible feat; we educated them really well.”

When students came back to in-person classes in April 2021, they were in small groups, socially distanced and wearing masks.

“We faced that adversity with drive and determination I’ve never seen before,” Downing said. “I’m confident you are well prepared for ninth grade next year. This is to honor and recognize you for your hard work and academic excellence.”

Middle school teacher Quenten Pritchard announced the awards for students in various categories and Culture instructor Jade Osceola gave out awards from the Culture department. Three “Founding Mothers” educational awards were announced. The awards are named for three women who were integral in the creation of PECS: Lorene Gopher, Louise Gopher and Jennie Shore.

Lorene Gopher educational award

Lewis Gopher spoke about his mother Lorene Gopher before presenting the award.

“She always said ‘you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you come from,’” Gopher said. “By participating in this school, you are helping our culture come back.”

Criteria for the Lorene Gopher educational award include attending PECS for a minimum of three consecutive years, maintaining a 3.0 GPA in Seminole Creek language classes, are active and knowledgeable in Seminole culture, shows enthusiasm and a willingness to learn more about Seminole history and culture, displays leadership qualities in school and the community and believes culture should be present everywhere, not just the classroom.

The award was given to Sariya Alvarez.

Louise Gopher educational award

Rita and Carla Gopher spoke about their mother Louise Gopher. Rita acknowledged that most of the students didn’t know Louise Gopher, so she told them about her.

“She was the first Seminole woman to graduate from college,” Gopher said. “She spent the rest of her life in education. She wanted good teachers here. You don’t realize how much of an advantage you have here. Just know how much these three ladies worked so you have this school.”

Gopher told the audience that her mother received an honorary doctorate degree from Florida State University and gave the commencement address.

“She always ended her commencement speeches with this,” Gopher said. “We move more confidently into the future when we are grounded in the lessons of the past.”

Criteria for the Louise Gopher educational award include attending PECS for a minimum of three consecutive years, maintained a 3.5 GPA in overall academics, exhibits positive moral attributes, takes pride in their studies while striving to achieve excellence, shows engagement and enthusiasm for academic material and perseveres even when tasks may seem difficult to master.

The award went to Yani “Eslicet” Smith.

Jennie Micco-Shore educational award

Osceola introduced the Jennie Micco-Shore award with a brief summary of Shore’s 40 years in education.

“She won’t retire,” Osceola said. “Now she is in the immersion program, where we vitalize and bring the language and culture back to life. I encourage you all to walk that path.”

Criteria for the Jennie Micco-Shore educational award include attending PECS for a minimum of three consecutive years, maintained a 3.0 GPA overall, hardworking individual who strives for excellence in both standard academics and Seminole Creek language studies, shows enthusiasm and a willing to learn more about Seminole history and culture and exemplifies Seminole virtues: to be humble, to be loving, to be truthful, to be meek and to be respectful.

Shore announced and presented the award to Jayleigh “Apoke” Braswell.

After cake and punch, the students posed for photos and watched the slideshow.

Winners of the three “Founding Mothers” educational awards, from left, Jayleigh Braswell, Yani Smith and Sariya Alvarez, display the awards on stage during the eighth grade farewell ceremony. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Eighth graders Kashyra Urbina, Aaryn King, Truly Osceola and Jayleigh Braswell sit together in the gym as they await the start of the farewell ceremony (Photo Beverly Bidney)
One of the “Founding Mothers,” Jennie Shore, announces the recipient of the award in her name as Culture instructor Jade Osceola watches. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Eighth graders display their culture awards as principal Tracy Downing, at right, applauds their accomplishments. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
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