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PECS’s final day honors award winners and pays tribute to those who helped shape the school

A group of fourth grade teachers bids farewell to their students at the Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School last day of school drive-thru celebration May 27, 2021, in Brighton. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

On the last day of this most unusual school year, Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School Principal Tracy Downing let her students know how proud she was of them.

“This year we never dreamed we would have to navigate a global pandemic,” Downing said during the virtual 7th and 8th grade end of the year awards ceremony May 27. “Students, you faced those challenges with grit and spirit, you did a fantastic job and were adaptive and resilient. It has been a privilege to work with you this year.”

Downing thanked the parents and guardians for helping the school provide a quality education to the students. She also recognized the community and the Seminole Tribe for checking in regularly to see if the school needed anything and thanked them for providing a tremendous amount of support.

The culture awards were a tribute to three women who were so important in the development of PECS: Louise Gopher, Jennie Micco Shore and Lorene Gopher. Each award had slightly different criteria.

Qualifications for the Louise Gopher Educational Award include attending PECS for at least three consecutive years, maintaining a 3.5 or higher GPA in academics, exhibiting positive moral attributes, taking pride in their studies while striving to achieve excellence, showing engagement and enthusiasm in academic material and persevering even when tasks seem difficult to master.

Retiring Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School guidance counselor Jeanine Gran gets some farewell flowers and a sweet embrace from former student Tadan Santiago during a last day of school event May 27, 2021. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Rita Gopher introduced the award with a video narrated by her mother Louise Gopher. “Education is your gold mine. Treasure your heritage, whatever it may be. Pass your knowledge on to your children. We learn more from the future when we are grounded in the lessons of the past,” Gopher said in the video.

The winner of the award was eighth grader Kalissa Huff.

Qualifications for the Jennie Micco Shore Educational Award include attending PECS for at least three consecutive years, maintaining a 3.0 or higher GPA, being a hard-working individual who strives for excellence both in standard academics and the Creek Seminole language studies, shows enthusiasm and a willingness to learn more about the Seminole history and culture and exemplifies Creek Seminole virtues: Eyasketv – to be humble, Vnokeckv – to be loving, Mehenwv – to be truthful, Kvncvpkv – to be meek and Vrakhueckv – to be respectful/honoring.

“Many of us were students of Miss Jennie,” said Jade Osceola, PECS culture teacher. “She helped lay the guidelines and framework of the award. Culture staff and teachers chose the winner.”

The winner of the award was Serenity Lara.

PECS ESE teachers Dena Whidden and Lydia Pell wish their students a great summer May 27, 2021. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Qualifications for the Lorene Gopher Educational Award include attending PECS for at least three consecutive years, maintaining a 3.0 or higher GPA in Seminole Creek language classes, being active and knowledgeable in Seminole Creek culture, shows enthusiasm and a willingness to learn more about Seminole history and culture, displays leadership qualities in school as well as in the community and believes culture should be present everywhere; not just in the classroom.

The award was introduced by Lorene Gopher’s oldest grandson Lewis Gopher Jr., who learned language, culture and tradition by spending a lot of time with her.

“We need to memorialize who these people are,” Gopher said. “The most important thing my grandmother said was that I need to be there and listen as when was speaking to other elders. Today as young people, we have to push to be there. Grandma instilled a drive in me, but the most impactful thing she did was to come up with the Creek dictionary. That’s been crucial to being able to teach the language. She was the binding to a lot of things we have in our family, culture and tradition. You all have the ability to carry this forward with you.”

The winner of the award was Preslynn Baker.

Creek teacher Suraiya Smith holds up some freshly made pumpkin fry bread at the PECS last day of school celebration May 27, 2021. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

The awards ceremony also included winners of the President’s Education Awards, which honored graduating elementary, middle and high school students for their achievement and hard work since 1983. A letter from President Joe Biden accompanied the awards.

The winners of the President’s Education Achievement award, which recognizes students with a grade point average of 3.0-3.4, were Jayleigh Braswell, Brandon Greene, Ava Taylor and Hayden Woodward.

The winners of the President’s Education Excellence award, 3.5-4.0 GPA, were Sariya Alvarez, Preslynn Baker, Kalissa Huff, Serenity Lara, Alyssa Madrigal, Chaka Smith and Madison Taylor.

Other awards given out at the ceremony were:

Straight A’s all year

Serenity Lara

Alyssa Madrigal

Chaka Smith

Citizenship of the Year

Jayleigh Braswell

Brandon Greene

Serenity Lara

Jaydence Urbina

National Honor Society

First year: Jayleigh Braswell, Brandon Greene

Second year: Ava Taylor, Madison Taylor

Third year: Hayden Woodward

Fourth year: Sariya Alvarez, Serenity Lara, Alyssa Madrigal, Chaka Smith

Fifth year: Preslynn Baker, Kalissa Huff

The last day of school also included a celebration as parents and students dropped off their bins for the last time. Teachers greeted their students in person with pompoms, cheers and signs as they drove through the parking lot.

It was also the last last day of school for guidance counselor Jeanine Gran, who retired after a 41-year career in education. She and her husband plan to travel the country in an RV, although Gran said it will be hard to stay away from PECS.

In a letter posted on Facebook, Downing wrote “Mrs. Gran is the type of person who is passionate about anything she does. I have been fortunate to witness that first-hand the past two years. She enthusiastically welcomed our students to school each morning and thanked them for wearing their seat belts as they quickly undid them to jump out and give her a hug. Seeing her smiling face first thing each morning really set the tone for our students as they began their day. We wish you great happiness, Jeanine, and wonderful adventures.”

PECS Librarian Alisha Pearce cheers on her students to a summer of reading May 27, 2021. (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