by Maggie Dunne and Cindy Dunne
One afternoon three years ago, Keith Martinez was called to the front office of the Little Wound High School in Kyle, South Dakota, and an administrator asked him if he would be interested in participating in an intensive college preparation program in New York.
If selected and if he worked hard, after two years Keith could be positioned to attend a competitive college.
After a brief trip with his mother to New York for interviews and testing, Keith left the Pine Ridge Reservation to spend his junior and senior years at Scarsdale High School as a participant in the Student Transfer Education Program (STEP), a two-year program designed to give talented students from outside the community a boost to succeed in college.
Last month Keith graduated from the Scarsdale High School in New York. He will enter Villanova University in the fall of 2012 as a Presidential Scholar and a Gates Millennium Scholar. Villanova was one of 9 schools that offered Keith admission.
We caught up with Keith in May of 2012 in Scarsdale NY and asked him about his experience.
Keith was born in South Dakota and never knew his father. Keith spent his elementary school years between Georgia and New Mexico and settled on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 7th grade. Keith said that once he entered High School, he felt significant peer pressure not to devote any time or energy on schoolwork.
On Pine Ridge Reservation Keith lived in a two-room trailer, with his siblings and his mother. The winter before he entered school in Scarsdale, the roof of his family’s trailer collapsed under the weight of four feet of snow and his family was scattered with relatives all over the Reservation as his mom searched for an alternative residence.
In the Fall of 2010, Keith entered one of the nation’s most competitive public schools in a community where students actively sought educational challenges and academic excellence was expected. Although he had been in the top quarter of his class at Little Wound, he estimates he was at least a year behind the students in Scarsdale.
Keith said of his academic adjustment: “I always knew that there were more challenging schools out there, but I had not experienced them before I came to Scarsdale.” Keith laughed about how quickly he had to develop study skills – his first week of school in Scarsdale, he “did homework until after midnight every night” – a routine he accepted but had never experienced before.
Keith said he “was surprised by how Scarsdale teachers always expected the best work product possible on every assignment, and also that they did not tolerate any excuses.” On the other hand, he found the teachers very willing to make themselves available before and after school to bring him up to speed if he was struggling with an assignment.
The hardest social adjustment Keith faced was the contrast between life on the Reservation and the wealthy suburbs of New York City:
Keith lived with a family that welcomed him like one of their own and says of his host father (and role model), Brandon Steiner:
How did you stay focused on your education and do so well in school?
Are you glad that you participated in the STEP program?
If you could change one thing about schools on the Reservation, what would it be?
What studies are you looking forward to, and what are your goals for your education?
Do you have any advice for your peers?
What can students on Pine Ridge learn from your experience?
Keith has been an unofficial adviser to us over the last two years and now that he has graduated from High School he will become an official member of our Advisory Board. We hope to periodically update you on our favorite college student as he adjusts to yet another chapter of life outside his comfort zone!
Inspired? You ought to be! Please join us in congratulating Keith Martinez on his tremendous accomplishments!