(Andrea A. Albert, left, and Dakota Thomas, both 15, look through books in the Reader to Reader Inc. office in the Cadigan Center for Religious Life at Amherst College earlier this week. The girls are part of a group of eight students from the Navajo Pine School in Navajo, N. M., who are visiting Western Massachusetts.)
Sunday, October 12, 2008
By DIANE LEDERMAN
AMHERST - They live in a community of less than 2,000 people and virtually everyone who lives there is Navajo like them.
Their town of Navajo, N.M., has a supermarket and gas station, two schools, a church, day-care center, fire department and that's about it, according to 16-year-old Bettina Kinlichinie.
While Kinlichinie and the seven other students were a little apprehensive about boarding a plane and traveling 2,300 miles to a place they had never seen, what awaited them in places like Springfield, Hadley and Amherst has been "life changing," she said.
Kinlichinie and her friends were brought here this week by Reader To Reader Inc., which began a mentoring program with these students and Amherst College about a year ago, said David S. Mazor, Reader to Reader Inc., founding executive director. The students and their college counterparts read the same books and discussed them online. Amherst College mentors visited the Navajo students in May, he said.
On their five day trip, the high school students visited such places as the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Amherst College's Mead Art Museum, sat in at a session at the Springfield Housing Court and met with Judge Dina E. Fein and attorney Myles Jacobson. They also went behind the scenes of the Amherst College Theater Department.
"They don't have a lot of opportunity," Mazor said. "The graduation rates are very low." The idea was to bring them here to introduce them to people in all types of careers, so it "would give them a reason to stay in school. "We wanted to connect them with (people who have) the passion they have for their careers."
Kyle S. Clark, 17, is a junior who recently moved from Navajo to Albuquerque, to attend a city school. The others on the trip still attend Navajo Pine High School.
Clark enjoyed observing Springfield Housing Court and learned that to be a judge, "you don't have to be a lawyer. That was really interesting," he said.
At court he talked to Jacobson about law. He never had the chance to talk one on one with a lawyer before. Clark said the talk is "going to make me work harder. It's going to make me pursue my dream."
Meeting Amherst College Assistant Athletic Director Billy T. McBride and the other stable of Amherst College coaches, helped Clark realize he can be a better basketball player "if I set my mind to it. That gave me some confidence."
Kinlichinie, a junior, particularly enjoyed a session on Web design with Amherst College Web developer Howard J. Hanna.
"Before, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to go into," she said.
While Mazor founded Reader to Reader Inc. about six years ago to provide books free of charge to needy school libraries and public libraries across the United States, it was through that program he found the need in this community transcended that.
He did a lot of fund-raising to bring the students here and was aided by Amherst College and places such as Whole Foods in Hadley and the Pub here, which provided free meals.
Reader to Reader is holding a fund-raiser Nov. 16 at 4 p.m. at the 19th annual Children's Illustration Exhibition at Michelson Gallery in Northampton, an event that is honoring author Norton Juster.
In addition, Reader to Reader is trying to raise money to bring the eight Navajo students back for a month next summer. Those wishing to donate to that venture may send a check to Reader To Reader, Inc. c/o Cadigan Center, 38 Woodside Ave., Amherst, MA 01002. Donors should mark it for the Navajo Pine High School project.