Photo caption: Daposka Ahnkodapi “Our School” teachers and staff. From left: Cameron Pratt, Erika Cole, Kim Freeman, Megan Webb, Dora Williams, Mary Jacobs, Autumn Hall, Frankee Hammer, Destinie Lookout, Melissa Kizziar, Denise Keene, Cheri Towell, Jessica Goodfox and Superintendent Patrick Martin. Courtesy Photo/ON Communications
It’s been six years since Daposka Ahnkodapi opened its doors to its first class of students. The past six years have seen employee turnover, change in leadership, a drop in enrollment, but the mission stayed the same. And on May 27, the Oklahoma State Board of Education granted “Our School” Private School Accreditation.
“This is very exciting because I did not think it was something we could get accomplished this year. The director of school accreditation, Leslie Janis, came to visit about two months ago at my invitation. She was very impressed with the school and said she thought we could get accredited, but it was difficult to get on the Board agenda because of all the problems they're having with Epic Charter Schools, Sovereign Community School in OKC, and schools asking for Emergency Certified teachers, etc.,” said Patrick Martin, Daposka Ahnkodapi Superintendent. “She said there were three schools up for accreditation, but we were the only one placed on the agenda. She said we must have looked like the best one!”
Accreditation is a process by which individual schools or entire school districts are certified as achieving minimum standards of quality. Those exact standards vary by state but guarantee that students are able to transfer to another institution.
Founded in 2015, Daposka Ahnkodapi, which translates to “Our School,” is the vision of Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear. Shortly after he began his first term in 2014, he outlined ambitious goals for his administration, an Osage Language immersion school being one of them. He said at the time, Osage youth would be his number one priority. By sheer will and determination, he, his staff, the staff of Daposka Ahnkodapi and the parents of their students have made it happen.
“This confirms the incredible program we have. Our belief in teaching the Wahzhazhe language in the classroom is reinforced by this accreditation,” Standing Bear said. “Congratulations to the students, teachers, parents, and Superintendent Patrick Martin.”
Martin said the application for accreditation, which was first started in 2018, has been extensive and demanding. For the accreditation team, it was also helpful Daposka Ahnkodapi had just finished the Cognia Private School accreditation process. Cognia gave the school a cumulative accreditation score of 311.
“Some of the things that Cognia Accreditation reported they liked about our school are we are part of the Osage Nation and we have a number of resources that are available to us, such as a Counselor, a Clinic, an Education Department that provides STEAM lessons and after school tutoring, Prevention that comes in once a week and provides lessons on drug and alcohol awareness for children, a Language Department that provides Osage Language instruction to our teachers and parents, a Culture Department that provides cultural trunks and lessons for our children, a Museum nearby that offers a look at our rich past and cultural heritage,” he said.
It also helps that the Chief and Congress support the school, Martin said. The access the students have to the Nation’s government leaders and what they can learn from them impressed the Cognia team. He said the 4th-grade class has been studying the U.S. Constitution as well as the Osage Constitution. The students have had guest speakers such as Assistant Principal Chief Raymond Red Corn, Director of Operations Casey Johnson, ON Historic Preservation Officer Dr. Andrea Hunter and Osage Congresswoman Paula Stabler, just to name a few. They spoke on the Osage government, Osage archaeology and history, and Osage traditions and customs. Martin said the cultural guest list is going to grow as the school grows.
The school supports Osage language and culture. Martin gave the example of Wakonze Frankee Hammer, who is teaching her class about Inlonshka, making paper dolls that wear full regalia and teaching them the Osage words for items such as a blanket 𐓸𐓪𐓲𐓣͘, a shawl 𐓡𐓘𐓮𐓤𐓘𐓨𐓣, Inlonshka 𐓣͘𐓧𐓪͘𐓯𐓤𐓛, Grayhorse 𐓬𐓘𐓮𐓶𐓧𐓣͘, Pawhuska 𐓷𐓘𐓸𐓘𐓤𐓪𐓧𐓣͘, and Hominy 𐓺𐓪͘𐓺𐓪𐓧𐓣͘.
“This is amazing. We are raising a new generation of Osage children that know their language and culture, something that history and circumstances have consistently stripped from us. This school is timely and necessary for the survival of our tribal language and culture. Even our dedicated school cook, Kim Freeman, adds to our cultural knowledge by making traditional Osage foods and helping the students learn the Osage words for them: corn soup 𐓪𐓡𐓪͘ 𐓮𐓘𐓤𐓣, meatpie 𐓰𐓪𐓻𐓶, frybread 𐓷𐓘𐓲𐓶𐓟 𐓤𐓘𐓲𐓶, and something students hear every day, Come and eat! 𐓷𐓘𐓩𐓪͘𐓜𐓟 𐓦𐓶 𐓬𐓣!”
He said the school promotes academic growth, which is essential to the Cognia accreditation team. They want to see more testing of the students and state standards and detailed lesson plans from each teacher. He said Cognia saw academic progress in each student and encouraged them to keep on that trajectory as they implement plans and structure that shows their dedication to state standards for academics.
Currently, the school has 34 students, from 6-week-old babies to 4th grade. For the 2021-2022 school year, they hope to grow to 50 students and add the 5th grade.
“With the school fully accredited by Cognia and the State Department of Education, we look forward to growing and fulfilling our mission each day. We appreciate the vision of Chief Standing Bear for making this school possible, and the support of Congress, knowing how important this school is to keep our language and culture alive,” Martin said. “Supporting our children and educating them in Osage ways gives us all hope for the future of our Tribe. It is an investment in the future and takes dedicated people with the vision to fulfill it.”
Daposka Ahnkodapi's parents have been a big part of the school’s journey.
“I am so proud of the school for working hard to achieve accreditation. I personally know my wife and many others worked diligently and often late hours to ensure this came about,” said Kilan Jacobs, who has children in the school.
“The act of engaging the parents, Wakonze, and students in the accreditation process was a welcome part of this specific accreditation process. Being involved in this process as active participants and stakeholders will lead to policy development that will benefit the core integrities of a language immersion school. We look forward to the addition of a School Board and request a policy council that is Wakonze, elder, language practitioners, and parent-led to uphold our communal cultural values. These steps will incorporate all the parts of a true, indigenous-led school,” said Electa Hare-RedCorn, who has children in the school.
“Through our love, we trusted those with our most precious possessions, our children. By and through that belief, those trusted souls, guided young hearts and spirits, to seek out heights that may seem unattainable at times; yet with great dreams, they dared to reach and were accepted. The challenges we knew would be and were daunting at times and could not be met alone, but in that trusted pursuit for meaning we found by working together, a path for our children to walk, to run, and yes fall was worth the effort. To rise knowing we, the teachers, the parents but most of all, our children, revealed, found, solidified the belief in themselves and all is possible,” said Anthony Shackelford, who has children in the school.
Wakonze (teacher) Mary Jacobs had this to say, in the Osage language, “𐓷𐓘𐓵𐓣͘𐓤𐓘 𐓬𐓣𐓰𐓘͘ 𐓻𐓣͘𐓤𐓘 𐓘͘𐓤𐓪𐓰𐓘𐓬𐓣 𐓵𐓟𐓤𐓘𐓡𐓘 𐓪𐓯𐓘͘𐓵𐓣͘ 𐓬𐓣𐓰𐓘͘ (When we are gone all our children will be here).”