Sequoyah High School in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. Photo: Anadisgoi

Bill John Baker: Cherokee high school attracts the best in Indian Country

Sequoyah High School remains elite educational institution
Cherokee Nation

As the academic year comes to a close, I ask everyone to join me in recognizing the dedication and support of the teachers and staff at Sequoyah High School. I am also very proud of the accomplishments of our students, with good reason.

The Cherokee Nation oversees the management and operations of Sequoyah High School, which serves Native students in grades 9–12 here in Tahlequah. Sequoyah is a Bureau of Indian Education grant school, and it continues to be a beacon of success for its students and our people. The school was founded in 1871 as an orphanage to provide homes to Cherokee children who had lost their families during the Civil War era. It operated continuously as an orphan training school and later a BIA school, before Cherokee Nation assumed operation of the 90-acre campus in 1985.

All Sequoyah High students – about 370 youth – are citizens of federally recognized Native American tribes. While other schools in Oklahoma have an average Native population close to 20 percent, Sequoyah’s student body is 100 percent American Indian.

Ensuring our kids’ success all the way through the graduation process is critical for their future. Our graduation rate at SHS is over 97 percent. We gladly commit the personnel and resources to prepare our students for their next life chapter, whether it be higher education, vocational education or joining the workforce.

Our teacher turnover rate is extremely low, adding to the foundation of success we experience at SHS. Our faculty is committed to this institution. Our teachers and staff are woven into the fabric of the school and often commit to a lifetime career at Sequoyah.

In total, Sequoyah’s graduating seniors secure well over $2 million in academic scholarships annually.Through the years, multiple Gates Millennium Scholars have come from SHS. However, the Gates Millennium Scholarship, which has funded hundreds of millions of dollars to students in Indian Country, was restructured in 2016. The dollars earmarked for Native students were rolled into other pools, and Native students now compete with non-Natives for Gates funding. Only 300 students per year receive a Gates scholarship. This year, we are excited to share that a SHS senior has been named to that elite group of Gates Millennium Scholars.

Since 2014, 11 Sequoyah students have been recognized as Oklahoma Academic Scholars, as determined by scoring at least 27 on the ACT Test. In that same time frame, SHS’s average test scores have climbed by almost two full points.

This past academic year, there were 64 students concurrently enrolled at Northeastern State University and 23 students enrolled in Indian Capital Technology Center. There are also five students enrolled in the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics a progressive STEM-focused institution that has forged a strong bond with Sequoyah.

Educational innovation is something in which we excel at Sequoyah. For instance, SHS began implementing the Social Emotional Learning curriculum three years ago. SEL focuses on critical social tools necessary for academic and life success, like resiliency, self-management and responsible decision-making. It is a rapidly growing trend in education planning, putting SHS well ahead of the curve. SHS students who went through the first SEL class will become student assistants for the new freshmen class next fall.

Sequoyah’s successful athletic teams and state titles are widely reported and followed via social media. Non-sports activities such as drama, speech, debate and band also regularly earn state-level accolades. For students who have a passion for our tribal language or who have graduated from the Cherokee Immersion School, we’ve begun offering Cherokee language opportunities.

Right now, SHS alumni are doing amazing things across the nation, from pursuing medical degrees to playing Major League Baseball. Over the past 10 years, there has been a pipeline established from SHS to Ivy League schools like Brown, Columbia and Dartmouth, as well as Oklahoma’s finest institutions: Northeastern State University, Rogers State University, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma City University.

Many of Sequoyah’s alumni tell us the school is the best thing that ever happened to them. For Cherokee Nation, SHS remains the educational home for our youth and is a magnet for the best and brightest in Cherokee Nation and Indian Country. Let’s celebrate another year of hard work and accomplishments of the students, faculty and staff of Sequoyah High School.

Bill John Baker currently serves as the 17th elected chief of the Cherokee Nation, the largest Indian tribe in the United States. Born and raised in Cherokee County, he is married to Sherry (Robertson) Baker. Principal Chief Baker has devoted much of his life in service to the Cherokee people. He spent 12 years as a member of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council and was elected Principal Chief in October 2011.

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