Ha:san High: Preparing Native Students for College and Life
Students at Southern Arizona’s Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School have one foot in the contemporary world and the other in the traditional—with both moving forward.
“Combining traditional culture with college prep is a rare commodity in our specialized world,” said school director Robin Kauakahi, as she pointed proudly to statistical evidence that both are possible. “You can get academics at other educational institutions, but you can’t get the cultural curriculum that is taught here.
“Since our inception in 1998, some 2,000 students have come through our doors with many going on to college after they leave us. With pride we note, half of our current senior class has already been accepted to major four-year universities.” That’s a far cry from the 17 percent of Native American high school students who begin college, according to the American Indian Education Foundation.
The charter high school is designed for Native students with a mission to serve as an academically rigorous, bicultural, community-based high school. “While we have a mixture of a lot of different tribal representation, our demographic is primarily O’odham and Yaqui with some Hispanic students speckled in the student body,” said Assistant Director Dustin Williams.
For this year’s 150-member student body, some represent a first for their families. “Many in our current class represent first generation students, the first one in their family to go to college,” said College Prep instructor Ryan Smith, Chemehuevi/Navajo. “There’s not a whole lot of dinner table conversation about college, because no one else has yet had that experience. Parents are supportive, but they rely on us to guide their children because they don’t have the related experience to help directly.”
A lot of effort on the part of students is also necessary in order to learn who they are and what they can become. They are bussed from the vast Tohono O’odham reservation to the school, a trip of between one and two hours, just to get to their classrooms. “It’s a choice of going to school down the street as opposed to attending a school where you have to travel up to two hours to get there and then spend four days away from home,” Smith said.
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