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Kenzie Begay, a 17-year-old student at Richfield High School, made the drive north with her mother to find out more about getting into college and applying for scholarships.
She was one of more than 400 students, parents and educators who attended a conference Saturday at Salt Lake City's West High School focused on developing a support network to help ethnic minority students succeed in school.
The message, driven home in speeches and workshops Saturday: Minority students need support and involvement from teachers and parents.
"You need to talk to your child about school. If it's important to you, then it will be important to them," said Christine Kearl, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s education deputy. "Be a parent. They have their friends and you're not one of them. . . . What they need is the parent."
Begay is an example of the power of parental support. Her mother, Sophie Adison, worked multiple jobs to support her children and said it was exhausting to juggle work with raising her family.
"My mom always had a hard life growing up. She was a single parent and didn't have a good education. She supported us in whatever we wanted to do," said Begay. "She always tells us not to live her life. She tells us to go to school and do better than her."
Adison went back to school at the Sevier Applied Technology Center after Begay started elementary school. Today she works in the schools with American Indian students and said that, like so many of those she works with, her daughter struggled with her identity and felt left out because of her race.
Then, in March, Begay joined in The Longest Walk 2, a march from Alcatraz Island in San Francisco to Washington, D.C., focusing on the American Indian identity and the environment.
She returned a changed person, proud of her culture and eager to go to college.
"I'm really proud of her. I really am," said Adison.
Joseph Doolin, a 15-year-old student at East High School in Salt Lake City, attended the conference with his mother, Eva.
"I learned that parents can mean everything," he said.
In the hallway, students and parents collected information on how to apply for college, resources that are available to minority students and assistance in paying tuition.
Adison said that the conference was useful, especially because the information isn't as easy for students outside the Wasatch Front to get. "It's hard for us to find that type of thing," she said.
Minority students in Utah
In Utah, the minority enrollment in public schools is growing more than twice as fast as the overall student growth. There are 113,066 minority students - defined as Asian, black, Latino, American Indian and Pacific Islander - now enrolled. In the Salt Lake City School District, about 60 percent of the students are minorities, as are more than half of the students in the Ogden City School District.