We have been giving scholarships to Native American college students for 29 years. James Lujan, Jodie Palmer, Pat Locke, Gerry Parker, Bill Schaaf, and I formed Catching the Dream in 1986. We have produced 875 graduates, with a completion rate of 78.6 percent. But we live with a high level of frustration.
Our biggest frustration at Catching the Dream is the students who inquire about our scholarships and then do not apply. They look at our website, do not read the instructions (“How to Find and Win Scholarships”), and then call us to ask what they are supposed to do. But they often wait two or three months to do it. If they wait until March of their senior year, they have totally missed the boat. It is too late to apply for scholarships then.
We tell them they should find and win all the scholarships they can. They can and should go to college with no loans. Our leading scholarship winner, a Laguna student named Isaiah Rodriguez, found 102 scholarships and won 70 of them. We helped him all the way. His first essay was a C level. But by his fifth draft he was at the A level. That is what won him the scholarships. Isaiah graduated from the University of Hawaii at Hilo, his dream school.
We have had one A+ essay in 29 years, and one A level essay. It may be hard for you to believe, dear reader, but it is true. The schools are failing Indian students in a big way. They are not telling them to go to college; they are telling them they should get a job or go to vocational school. That, of course, is racist, but it is true. School people will deny it, but it is still true.
Schools are not having Indian kids write at all. My grandnephew, who is a freshman in college, went all the way through high school without writing one paper. When he told me that, I realized the same thing happened to me at the same school from 1955 to 1957. Imagine my surprise when I transferred to an all-white school in Dinwiddie, Virginia in 1957, and Mrs. Louise Rose told us the first day of class that we would have to write a paper every week for her English class. I did it, and have been thankful ever since.
Our second biggest frustration is the student who has a 3.8 GPA and thinks she will win all the scholarships and be admitted to Stanford, Harvard, Dartmouth, or Yale. But when she takes the ACT, instead of scoring a 32, which would put her at the 99th percentile, she scores a 20, which puts her at the 45th percentile. We have had at least 400 examples of this in our 29 years. And students will put off taking the ACT or the SAT because they are afraid of it.
Why do they score so low? It is because they do not read. To fix this, we spent ten years writing the best book on the subject. But schools are not buying it. We have sold fewer than 50 copies. There are over 1,800 Indian schools, all of whom should have it. The book is called Reading for College.
Our third biggest frustration is students who do not follow instructions to let us help them with their essays. They end up sending out essays that are a C-, which means they will not win any scholarships.
Essays need to be in the A-, A, and A+ range to win. We have one student this fall who sent out a C- essay to 40 different scholarships and won NONE. That is heartbreaking for everyone involved.
This story was originally published November 29, 2015.