High school, college students gain work experience through Navajo Nation's Summer Youth Employment

Noel Lyn Smith The Daily Times
The Daily Times

SHIPROCK — The sound of Arantxa Curley's shovel removing weeds from the sidewalk along U.S. Highway 64 mixed with the roar of passing vehicles on Thursday.

Curley, 18, who attends Northern New Mexico College in Española, is one of 10 college students employed by the Shiprock Chapter through the Summer Youth Employment program.

"This is very important to me," Curley said, adding that the money she earns will pay for school supplies and the projects the students are completing are beautifying the community.

Graham Biyáál, a beautification crew leader, said the chapter hired 20 high school students and 10 college students.

High school students earn $7.50 an hour and are employed for two and a half weeks, while college students earn $8.50 an hour and work for four weeks, Biyáál said.

The program started on June 8 and by the time it ends on July 24, a total of 40 high school students and 20 college students will have been employed.

It is possible the employment program could continue throughout the summer if the Navajo Nation Council approves a bill that requests $3 million in supplemental funding from the Unreserved Undesignated Fund Balance for the program.

As of May 31, the fund's balance was $4.9 million, according to a memorandum from the Office of the Controller that was attached to the legislation.

Delegate Jonathan Hale, who represents the Oak Springs and St. Michaels chapters in Arizona, said in a telephone interview Thursday the program is beneficial because it exposes the students to the work environment.

"It opens up their eyes to the community," Hale said.

If the bill is approved by the council and signed into law by tribal President Russell Begaye, the $3 million would be divided in half, with $1.5 million equally distributed among the 110 chapters. The second $1.5 million would be distributed to the chapters with the amount determined by the chapter's number of registered voters.

Within the Northern Agency, the top three chapters that would receive the highest allocation would be the Shiprock Chapter at $76,241, the Upper Fruitland Chapter at $35,262 and the Aneth Chapter in Utah at $33,202, according to the bill.

When asked about the legislation, Curley said she thinks it is important for tribal leaders to support the employment program because it helps college students pay for expenses such as books and fuel.

Sapphire Williams, who will be a sophomore at Shiprock High School, said she is learning how to be "more mature" and is learning the importance of arriving to work on time and developing social skills.

This is the first job for Williams, 14, and the experience has taught her how apply for a job, how to develop a résumé and how to behave during an interview.

"So far, it's been good. I've learned a lot," she said.

Michael Woods, who will start his second semester at Diné College's Shiprock campus, is using his money to help his grandmother, who he lives with, pay bills, and to purchase food and personal items.

"I decided to enroll in this program because it's my first job, so I wanted to get the work experience and get the sense of having a job," Woods, 22, said.

He added the program "gives all the younger kids a chance."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.