Jazmin Ramirez learned recently that her ancestors made earrings with sinew – dried animal tendons used as string.
The 9-year-old said that among all the facts she’s learned in her culture class during the Indian Youth Summer Program, that’s her favorite.
The program designed for Native American children swelled to 180 kids this year, program officials say – the most ever in its 15-year history. More than 300 applied, but there wasn’t enough room for all of them, said Tara Dowd, program coordinator.
The poor economy was cited as the primary reason for the growth.
“People are having a hard time finding day care or are looking for work,” Dowd said.
For the first time in several years, Spokane Public Schools collaborated with other agencies – the N.A.T.I.V.E. Project and Spokane Tribal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – to fund the five-week program, which is free to the children ages 6 to 13.
“Instead of staying home, you get to do stuff like this,” said Ramirez, pointing to a game of dodge ball in the gymnasium of Havermale High School. The program is held at the school 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.
Each day, kids eat breakfast before going to classes on subjects including math, science, reading, culture and “prevention.”
In culture class kids learn traditional crafts, making earrings and necklaces and knitting shawls. In prevention class, they study street safety, nutrition, teen pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse.
“We help them develop healthy skills to know how to handle the issues,” Dowd said.
The students also are urged to stay in school. Native Americans have the highest dropout rate in the district, said Spokane achools Superintendent Nancy Stowell, who called the Indian Youth Summer Program a “wonderful collaboration.”
Jamie Pascal, 12, said kids should stay in school “so you don’t get dumb.”
“If it wasn’t for that program, those kids would be running around neighborhoods without any kind of engagement,” Stowell said. “They get to be around other kids their own age, learn skills and go on trips.”
After classes and lunchtime, the days are devoted to activities such as water balloon fights or squirming down a Slip ’n Slide. On Fridays, the kids go on field trips to places like Silverwood Theme Park and Splash Down water park.
“They are not only learning, but they get to have fun,” Stowell said. “It’s not like summer school. It’s more like summer camp.”