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Students excel at Florida Indian Youth Program

TALLAHASSEE — For 33 years, Native American students in Florida have chosen to spend two weeks of their summer learning science, technology, engineering, math and writing at the Florida Indian Youth Program (FIYP) in Tallahassee. The rigorous program combines a strong academic component with cultural, social, job and life skills.

Forty-nine kids representing 14 Tribes, including Larissa De La Rosa, Ashley Faz and Ke’Yhara Tommie from the Seminole Tribe, attended the program July 13-27. During the program students created their own Tribe, wrote a constitution and elected a Tribal Council. De La Rosa was elected Chairwoman.

“I loved learning about the constitutions of Tribes and being around people from other Tribes and learning their cultures,” De La Rosa said. “We learned about Tribal government and how they are set up.”

After students created their Tribe, named the Sovereign Indigenous Tribe, they wrote a preamble to the constitution stating what they wanted to accomplish.

“Our Tribe’s plan was to teach Tribal members to treat others with respect and be contributing members of society,” De La Rosa said.

FIYP is the longest-running Indian youth program in the country, said Robert Kellam, Florida Governor’s Council on Indian Affairs employment and training director, who runs the program.

“We want students to be exposed to things they wouldn’t be at home,” he said. “The goal is for them to go on to college, vocational school or the military. Just about 100 percent of them do so.”

Activities during the program were not all academics. Weekends included visiting the Tallahassee Museum, zip lining and canoeing at the Florida State University recreation area.

“They were in class every day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.,” Kellam said. “They worked very hard and every one of them met their goals and received a $500 achievement allowance in addition to the $6 per hour they earned for class time.”

This year, FIYP included a STEM program comprised of science, technology, engineering and math. To make it more interesting, students created superheroes and used them in each lesson.

“It’s a tactile program to get them interested in science,” Kellam said. “They used data, algebraic formulas, the nature of science, Newton’s laws of motion, aerodynamics and design to create their hero’s superpowers.”

The students used science to create tools and shields for their superheroes and learned to use the scientific method to solve crimes.

“It was challenging but everything was taught so well,” De La Rosa said. “It was hands-on so we really learned it – even math. Everything was in front of us and we had to figure things out.”

The superhero theme was used throughout the curriculum. The writing instructor had students create the origin of their characters from their imaginations, write an ode, poem or essay, and draw a picture of their superhero. In the computer class, students built their own websites.

“The program was a blast,” De La Rosa said. “Yes, you’re learning but you’re having a fun time meeting people. You get paid to go; you make money and are getting a great education. Everyone should just do it and go to the program.”