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Eighth graders say goodbye to PECS

Lewis Gopher Jr., the grandson of Lorene Gopher, presents the Lorene Gopher award to Ila Trueblood on May 26, 2023. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BRIGHTON — Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School eighth graders bid farewell to the school that nurtured and taught them for most of their lives with one last parade through the school’s breezeways May 26.

Before the parade, the students and parents gathered in the gym for speeches and awards.

“This was an unusual year because of the new state standards and assessments,” PECS principal Tracy Downing said. “You adapted to that so well, you are to be commended. We are so proud of how resilient you are. Thank you parents for your support; I always say you are our educational partners.”

Culture teacher Suraiya Smith announced the culture awards, middle school teacher Quenten Pritchard announced academic awards and the awards named for three founding mothers of PECS were presented.

Jennie Shore presents her award to PECS eighth grader Sally Osceola during the school’s eighth grade program and final walk May 26, 2023. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

“I’ve had you as students during your fourth and fifth grade years and seventh and eighth grades,” Smith said. “You are great kids. Stay in touch with each other and come back and visit.”

Smith congratulated the students for earning high school language credits by completing their Creek classes.

The awards for three founding mothers of PECS were announced. Jennie Shore, Lorene Gopher and Louise Gopher were all essential to the creation of the school in 2007.

Criteria for the Jennie Shore educational award include attending PECS for a minimum of three consecutive years, maintaining a 3.0 GPA overall, hardworking individual who strives for excellence in both standard academics and Seminole Creek language studies, shows enthusiasm and a willingness 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.

Smith announced the Jennie Shore award.

“Jennie Shore was my teacher,” Smith said. “She taught me how to do beadwork and the loom. She told me I had to learn it all by myself and if I did, she would get me my own loom. I did it and got my loom. She believes in us and wants us all to learn because she loves her culture.”

The award was presented to Sally Osceola.

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 daughters of Louise Gopher – Rita Gopher, left, and Carla Gopher, right, – present the Louise Gopher award to her granddaughter, Ila Trueblood, at PECS’ eighth grade program and final walk May 26, 2023. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Gopher’s grandson Lewis Gopher Jr. announced the award.

“My grandmother always told me it was important to understand your culture and your academics so we will be able to demonstrate all aspects of the Seminole people to the outside world,” Gopher Jr. said. “I see that happening already. The culture we have is very strong and the community we live in is very caring.”

The award was presented to Ila Trueblood.

Criteria for the Louise Gopher educational award include attending PECS for a minimum of three consecutive years, maintaining 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.

Louise Gopher’s daughters Rita Gopher and Carla Gopher announced the award.

“My mother passed away in 2016,” Rita Gopher said. “I fear kids won’t know who she was, what she stood for, what kind of life she lived and what she represented.”

A video of Louise Gopher’s life was shown. Highlights included her being the first tribal woman to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1970 from Florida Atlantic University. In 2007, she also received the James D. Westcott Distinguished Service Medal from Florida State University and in 2014 she she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from FSU, the Presidential Service Medallion from FAU and was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame.

The award was presented to Ila Trueblood, Louise Gopher’s granddaughter.

After the ceremony, the two sisters talked about the fact that Trueblood, Carla’s daughter, earned the award.

“I have so many emotions right now,” Carla Gopher said. “Ila generally strives to do well in school. She always tries to remember everything that her grandmother did.”

“All the teachers voted for this award and Ila got the votes from both sides, culture and academics,” added Rita Gopher. “There has never been a student who won both [Lorene Gopher and Louise Gopher] awards.”

Eighth graders walk through the school’s breezeways during the traditional eighth grade final walk where the student body applauds their success. (Photo by Beverly Bidney)

Before the students were dismissed to parade through school, Downing shared some words of wisdom about the next few years.

“High school is a place for you to explore your passions, get to know yourself better and take advantage of lots of opportunities,” Downing said. “It is a time to grow, learn and make memories. Know that you will always have the support of the Education Department.”

After the awards ceremony, the 26 members of the class walked past cheering students, teachers, staff and parents as they made their way to the gym for a final party celebrating their accomplishments, which included a video and photos of their years at PECS.

An excited group of students make their final walk as eighth graders through the hallways of the school May 26.

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