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MPS Hamilton junior wins button-design contest for First Nations Studies College Access Program

The winning design for the First Nations Studies button contest has the words "Still Here."MPS students in First Nations Studies have a new button that shows they’re in the successful College Access Program, thanks to its creator, Keira Kilp, a junior at Hamilton High School. 

Keira, also a First Nations Studies student, won the program’s button design contest, which is in its second year. She was recognized for her achievement at the program’s end-of-year field trip on April 18. 

Her red, white, and black design — of a raised fist with feathers and lines radiating from it and the words Still Here — is a print made from linoleum carvings. The multiple colors required multiple carvings. 

“I love working with linoleum. It’s fun. It’s like cutting butter,” Keira said. The ink and linoleum carvings sometimes work together to give the image texture. “It just gives it character.” 

The design has its roots in a printmaking class Keira was in and is based on an old print made by college students in France. She added the feathers after her printmaking teacher asked how the image would convey that it was about Native Americans. The words were Keira’s. 

“It was a simple message, and I wanted to convey that Native people, we’re still here,” even if they’re overlooked in history, she said. 

Keira hopes to make her career after high school in another visual field. “I like to experiment with some art, but I have my heart set on being a photographer,” said Keira, who especially enjoys photographing nature and her environment. “I like photography because it makes you look closer at things.” 

Keira, who is second-descendant Menominee, said she is learning more about her culture, and she appreciates that First Nations Studies gives her an opportunity for a broader view of Native culture. 

“I get to connect with other students who are from different tribes,” she said. 

Milwaukee Public Schools has 1,600 students who identify as being Native; they attend 140 of the district’s 156 schools. The majority of the students attend school on Milwaukee’s south side. 

Of those, 215 students are in the College Access Program, which surpasses the goal of having 100 students in the program, said First Nations Studies Supervisor Richanda Kaquatosh. She noted that an average of 95% of the students in the program have graduated on time, while also taking Advanced Placement courses. The students increased their grade point average, she said. 

The College Access Program uses the Expanding the Circle curriculum, which is designed to help Native high school students make the transition to college through culturally relevant activities. The program also offers tutoring, support in applying for scholarships and to colleges, and free visits to colleges.  

Jody Bauer is the lead teacher for the First Nations College Access Program. First Nations families interested in the program can register their children online

First Nations College Access is in the third year of a $3.4 million grant from the federal Office of Indian Education, which is funding additional cultural and academic programming.   

First Nations students have access to a summer culture camp; summer bridging camp, to prepare students in 6th through 8th grade for the College Access Program; regalia sewing; drumming; tutoring; and beading. First Nations Studies also helps educators with integrating culture into the curriculum. 

First Nations Studies previously received a four-year, $1.7 million federal grant to improve college access for Native students.  

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