Addressing Needs of Native Youth in a Public School Setting

Addressing Needs of Native Youth in a Public School Setting

Dr. YellowfishName: Star Yellowfish, PhD
Tribe: Keetoowah Cherokee
Location: Oklahoma City, OK

Dr. Yellowfish serves thousands of Native students as the Director of Native American Student Services for Oklahoma City Public Schools (OKCPS). She is a strong advocate for policies that affect Indian students, families, and education programs across Indian Country. When the COVID-19 crisis first broke, Dr. Yellowfish shared her perspective of what the needs looked like for her students.

Tell us about your program and the work it’s doing in your community.

OKCPS is one of the largest school districts in Oklahoma.  Our district is a large part of the OKC metro area and we service over 40,000 students and their families.  What is most important to us are children and children’s education. 

What are the biggest challenges your program faces when it comes to the COVID-19 epidemic? 

Our district’s top two priorities are 1) making sure students are safe and 2) making sure our students are healthy and fed.  Right now, OKCPS is developing plans to begin to feed students (all youth, not just OKCPS students) on March 23 until further notice.  Many of our families and students rely on healthy meals for both breakfast and lunch, so it’s important we find a way to feed children while keeping them safe and healthy. 

What are some things you wish the broader public and funders knew?  

I wish the broader public knew that it is really difficult for Administrators of schools to close schools.  We don’t take these decisions lightly and we must always consider all of those involved in our public school system.  Yes, learning is important. Yes, we know it can be a hassle for families, especially working parents. But YES, we absolutely need to make sure our students are safe and healthy. 

How have you seen community members come together to support each other?  

For OKCPS, we have had a number of business and community partners step up and say “How can we help? What can we do?!”  Businesses and community partners have expressed help with feeding students, making sure students are getting food, taking temperatures of school nutrition staff so that those workers can prepare meals while ensuring their safety and the safety of others. 

How can funders and philanthropy help you and your community right now? 

I think what funders and philanthropy can do right now is not just give items, BUT actually be the ones who are handing out items.  OKCPS does not have the manpower to service all our families at their homes, however, if a business, church or organization simply took a square block or a small portion of the city to provide basic necessities like bottled water, hygiene products, canned or pantry goods, than the schools and the staff would not be looked at as the ones who have to provide the manpower to do that. 

How can the general public help your community right now?  

I think the general public needs to only take what they need.  Many of our families cannot afford to stock up on items, but when they do have the money and they go back for goods and the shelves are empty, that’s when our students and families start to go hungry. 

Native Americans in Philanthropy and community organizations and nonprofits throughout Indian Country, are actively responding to the guidance from Tribal and local governments in an effort to meet the needs of our communities. The information shared here was current on the date it was posted, but may have changed since then.