A native American meets prep-school life

During the school year, Dianna Jim wakes up before dawn so she can catch a bus for the hour ride to her high school. Dianna lives on a Navajo reservation about "the size of West Virginia" in Tsaile, Ariz. One of the biggest towns is some 100 miles away. As the Canyon de Chelly passes by her bus window, she'll often gaze out - then promptly fall asleep, she says. "Or I'll sit there and listen to music - Mozart, sometimes Korn."

This summer the high school senior left the ragged canyons of her state for the vastly different - and tree-filled - prep-school campus at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., where she and 20 other native Americans attended a competitive summer-school program for minorities. They took classes in subjects most of their schools don't offer.

At Exeter, classes start around 8:15 a.m., so Dianna can sleep in a bit. But that's about the only thing that's easier. "I get more homework here in a night than I would in a week at home."

Dianna, who was No. 1 in her junior class, received a full scholarship from Exeter (part of it paid for by the Navajo Nation), like most of the other native-American students here. She's also taking Shakespeare and Web-page design classes.

The diversity, Dianna says, is the best part. "I've never seen so many different people from so many different backgrounds in one place," she says, adding that her high school is 99.9 percent Navajo. "There are people in my dorm from Venezuela and Colombia. My roommate is from South Africa."

Having class with only 11 other students made a big impression as well. "There's a lot of one on one with teachers," she says. "At home, the teacher does all the talking. At Exeter, there's more room for creative thinking."

On the reservation, she usually helps her grandmother on the farm every weekend, feeding animals, and doing "outdoor hard labor," she says. "Here [at Exeter], I can go outside and lay on the grass," she says. "There are not as many big trees [at home] as there are here." But she does miss the 30-mile vistas.

Dianna wants to go to college at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., or Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She'd like to take more computer classes, although her high school doesn't teach anything beyond basic computer literacy. Overall, she feels the summer program has prepared her well for classes she'll be taking her senior year, including physics and advanced English.

"I'm having so much fun here," she says, beaming. "There's always something to do. I've learned a lot."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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