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Tule River Tribe invests in its most-treasured resource — its youth
Education centers help build better future
What once started out in town as a tutoring program with five students in a single class room in 2001 has grown to a million-dollar center.
The Tule River Indian Study Center on Olive Avenue in Porterville was once the old Porterville Unified School District Adult School building. Prior to that it was a small shopping center.
In April of 2007, the Tule Indian Tribe made a final payment of more than $1 million for the facility. On that day, one filled with a celebration that included colorful dances and pulsating drum beats, Tribal Chairman Neil Peyron handed the final check of the $1.25 million purchase to PUSD Board Chairman John Nash.
And suddenly, the old adult school on Olive Avenue was now the Tule River Indian Study Center — wiping out a two-year waiting period for students who desired or needed academic assistance, as the previous building could only accommodate 45 students, tribal education officials said.
Since then, the tutoring site has been serving students — tribal members and first-generation descendents — of all ages, from kindergarten through high school seniors.
They are also transported to-and-from school, the Study Center and home.
The center offers one-on-one tutoring in a classroom setting. In addition, a full curriculum, summer school program and occasional workshops — with subjects ranging from algebra to English — are also offered.
“If there’s a need, we try to find a way to meet that need,” said Jason Porter, interim education director. “We offer basic tutoring services and make sure our students get their homework done and corrected — leaving our facility with either homework 100 percent done, or with us writing a note to parents if only 75 percent is done.”
Completing homework assignments at the Study Center has a two-fold purpose.
“We want our children to spend quality time with their families,” Porter said. “Once they leave here, they can go home and have fun and enjoy the evening. They — students and parents — don’t have to stress about it when they get home. They can enjoy dinner and play with their kids.”
The basic goal, however, is to raise the students’ attendance and grade point average.
“In the past four years, we have seen a significant increase in GPA’s, performance levels and in attendance,” Porter said. “We also see differences in their personality and in their motivation towards school.”
Serving an approximate 130 students daily, the 4:1 student-to-teacher ratio has been key to the success of the program throughout the years. The Study Center has a staff of 17 teachers, two tutors, six transportation drivers, an outreach coordinator, an office manager, a maintenance person and a person in charge of preparing healthy snacks.
High school students have also participated in the Odyssey Credit Recovery Program over the summer, with 13 students earning 10 credits and another 9 students earning five credits last summer.
“This opens up their schedule to take other electives or classes they find interesting,” Porter said.
Towanits Indian Education Center
The Towanits Indian Education Center on the reservation also offers assistance to its tribal members and first-generation descendents, as well as the Tule River Tribe community, with tutoring, homework, summer school and a language course.
With 10 teachers, a cafeteria person, two transportation drivers and a librarian, the student-to-teacher ratio is higher.
Open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and until 5 p.m. on Friday, the Towanits Indian Education Center allows students involved in after-school sports or other extra-curricular activities an opportunity to take advantage of the center’s late opening four days a week.
“They love coming to class,” said lead teacher Maureen Price. “I’ve seen big growth.”
Once the students arrive after school, homework help and tutoring on an array of subjects, is offered. When the work is done, the students are offered a snack and a pass to leave the classroom.
“They can go to the computer lab where they have fun academic games — something a lot of our kindergarten to sixth grade students like. Our older kids usually go to the playground or to the gym,” Price said. “At the end of the day, they are transported home by vans.”
As Price talked, across the hallway, Angelina Leon, a kindergarten teacher, helped an approximate 15 students — one at a time — on letters, numbers and sounds.
“It’s different every single day,” she said. “They come from two schools — all from different classrooms. They all have different homework assignments. It’s one-on-one with 15 to 17 different students. No one has the same homework.”
Out in the hallway, Wednesday, Orlisia Morgan smiled as she walked briskly out of the third-grade classroom.’
“I’m all done,” she announced. “Now I get to play around with friends until it’s time to go home.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.