Each individual who enters the doors of American Indian OIC holds within them a story.

Although each of these stories is different – one common thread is constant during students’ time here: the strength of the support system that lies within these walls. This support system is  what keeps students coming back each day, and also what carries them across whatever finish line is their goal. Because of our small size and our commitment to give each individual the attention they deserve, we become an integral role in student success.

One recent graduate of the GED program, Sam, has been attending the programs here since 2012. He initially came to AIOIC because “it felt like home.” Sam grew up in the neighborhood. He had family member and friends who worked or attended school here. He felt comfortable in this space, and that’s what drew him to the program initially.

Sam’s road to this major life milestone has had its ups and downs. Attendance to the program has “been here and there. I was always working and making excuses.” But in the end, he always returned to the building that felt safe, welcoming, and supportive. No matter what, Sam knew he could pick up where he left off.

Though he has faced challenges, there have been a lot of positive aspects of his time at the AIOIC. He has seen many students come through who have wanted to give up, but staff members like Annessia Swann, ABE Director, and Leeann Nelson-White, Navigator, are always there to push students forward. “I was very close, like [other students], to giving up. They kept telling me to pull through and keep going, and I gave it my best shot.” It is incredible how much difference those words can make. A constant stream of support is truly what kept Sam motivated on a day to day basis.

Ultimately, it came down to a choice. Sam knew he had to be willing and motivated to make school a priority. Even though he always felt the need to be working, the choice to return to school was driven by the knowledge that when he completed his GED, a series of doors would be open that would never have been available without this credential. “I just didn’t want to continue working for minimum wage.”

Sam earned his GED in early March, but this is just the beginning of his journey. He will be attending school at Takoda Institute in the spring, enrolling in the Computer Support Specialists track. After that, he may move out of state to try something new. He also hopes to settle down, own his own place, and have a good paying job. All of these next steps are very attainable now that Sam has obtained his GED!

Another success story comes from the high school ,Takoda Prep. Jesse first came to AIOIC during the summer before his senior year. He was behind on credits, and his plan was to make up some credits and then return to his traditional high school to graduate with his class. However, things did not quite turn out as planned. Jesse was unable to stay focused. He didn’t feel supported by staff members, and the environment was not encouraging. At a mainstream high school, Jesse says, “you’re not being welcomed or getting the support or motivation from the staff.” Before he completely lost track, Jesse made an important decision: he returned to Takoda Prep to finish up his last few credits.

“There were times I actually liked coming to school,” Jesse said of his time at Takoda Prep. He felt like the environment and staff members really helped him stay productive. Every day that he came to school he felt supported and welcomed by teachers. Jesse said that it doesn’t take much: just encouragement and support to get their work done and succeed. That looks different for every student, but Jesse is right. Most of the time a student simply needs to feel like they are heard and have a place.

His grandfather was also a crucial person in his support system. Originally from Red Lake, his grandfather has lived in Washington D.C. for quite some time. However, he would still speak with his grandfather almost daily about staying on top of responsibilities and finishing school. “Having him reach out to me from all the way over there really means a lot.” Those frequent conversations the two had were a definite incentive for Jesse to finish up and make his grandfather proud.

In the fall, he will be attending school at MCTC to study business management and ideally would like to be a blackjack dealer. Eventually he would like to be in higher management, but right now Jesse wants to try out working in a casino to see just what role he would like to land in. He may move to D.C. to be with his grandfather to experience a new city.

His advice to current students is simple. “Don’t fall behind and don’t procrastinate. Keep on top of your work! Once you get everything done, then you can kick back and relax.”

The formula is this: the motivation from within, with an added dose of support from the welcoming environment at AIOIC. That’s all these two men needed to succeed.

-Written by Takoda Prep Instructor Christy Hicks