The new BA diploma recipients are, from left: Gary Martine, Shine Tidzump, Barbara Wager, Ron Howard, Violet Aragon and Lisa Williams. (Ernie Over photo)

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 1.13.38 PM(Riverton, Wyo.) – The first graduates in a collaborative program between the Wind River Tribal College and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh were honored with a luncheon today at the Fremont County Fairgrounds. The graduates crossed the stage to receive their bachelor of arts degrees last week in Wisconsin and returned home to be honored by the Tribal College, Tribal officials and their families and friends today.

All 10 of the graduates are staff members at the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho Head Start programs across the Reservation, including Fort Washakie, Ethete and Arapahoe-Great Plains. They are Denise D. Aragon, Violet Aragon, Alta Y. Chavez, Dwan Hereford, Ron Howard, Teresa Maloney, Gary Martine, Judith “Shine”  Tidzump, Barbara Wager and Lisa Williams. Wager’s degree is from Kendall College and Williams’ is from Chico State College. All the others received their degree from UW Oshkosh.

The Executive Director of the ES & NA Birth to Five Head Start Program, Joe Henry, said he was almost as excited today as he was in 2011 when the possibility of the collaboration first came up. “It has been a blessing,” he said. “Qualified Native teachers, whether in Head Start or in the public schools, set a standard, an example, and are role models for this and future generations of Native children.”

Marlin Spoonhunter

Marlin Spoonhunter

The President of Wind River Tribal College, Marlin Spoonhunter, spoke mostly to the friends and family at today’s ceremony, urging them to spread the word and promote more Tribal members into education careers. “Learning is life-long, you can take education everywhere you go,” he said. “These students, many had doubts at the beginning… but they had help, they helped each other, and now they are equipped with good skills.”

Spoonhunter said the graduates showed commitment and perseverance and got their degree within two y ears. “They chose to have classes on weekends and all summer long, they really committed to this,” he said. “Now we have at least 10 new Native teachers on the reservation.” In order to achieve their goals, Spoonhunter said all of the graduates needed support not only from each other, but from their families and spouses and significant others. “They sacrificed a lot to get here, and this is what we need today. Role models who can teach the language and culture to our children.”

Howard and Martine said the entire class was working full time at Head Start while taking their early education classes. “It’s taken a lot of time,” they both said, nearly in unison. Williams said she entered the BA program “to be a better teacher and provide a better life for my kids at Head Start and at home.” Tidzump said the opportunity was presented to the staff, “So I took advantage of it, Joe really helped us and Denise and I decided to do it together.”

Graduate Violet Aragon with grandson Teegan Arpar. (EO)

Graduate Violet Aragon with grandson Teegan Arpar. (EO)

Denise Aragon, Alta Chavez and Teresa Maloney were unable to attend today’s honor luncheon, but their fellow graduates spoke of them, as did Spoonhunter and Henry.

Spoonhunter also announced that a second class has started with 17 students. “I hope to be here in 2015 to welcome them home, too.” he said.

The bachelor’s program was funded by the Head Start Program, by Wind River Tribal College through the Federal Office of Indian Education and from a $10,000 grant from the Wyoming Women’s Foundation.

“A good education will have a tremendous impact on the lives of future generations of Native children,” Henry said. The commitment of this pioneering cohort class to education is admirable and sets the standard for the cohorts that follow…. we look forward to the continuance of the cohort program and to the graduates from those programs to energize these communities and make education a priority for each and every family on and off of the Reservation.”

Two of the graduates, Martine and Howard, will be student teaching this spring at local schools. Martine at Wyoming Indian Middle School and Howard, as yet, has not received his assignment. The two are working toward a certified Wyoming Teaching certificate.

Also in attendance at today’s event was Northern Arapaho Business Council member Willard Gould.