Keeping American Indian traditions vibrant and helping Indian youths is an ongoing mission in the Putnam City School District.
Through activities and programs, the Indian Education Department reaches out to nearly 1,000 students, which is 5.4 percent of the district's 19,296 enrollment.
Director George Shields Jr. said the effort has been under way for nearly 40 years. He has spent 17 years with the program.
Shields said national statistics show American Indian students face challenges including low grades, poor attendance and low self-esteem. That's where he hopes to make a difference.
“We talk to students, parents and teachers to find out ways to help our at-risk students become successful and productive students,” said Shields, an American Indian.
Federal grants help pay for counseling, tutoring, helping students with supplies and encouraging them to attend college.
Shields said one Putnam City graduate is now a college professor, and is just one of many success stories.
“We don't take credit for these achievements. We are just proud to have maybe played a small part in a student's development,” he said.
Relating to others
American Indian clubs are established at Putnam City and Putnam City West high schools. Membership is open to anyone, but emphasis is placed on American Indian culture.
“For some students, these clubs provide a place to identify with their Native American heritage, and for others it's just a fun club to be in,” Shields said.
Celo Keith, a senior at Putnam City High School who has been accepted to Oklahoma State University, appreciates the club.
“You get to meet new people — people you can relate to,” he said. He and his twin sister, Sydney, are Cheyenne-Arapaho.