All FSI News Blogs November 30, 2021

Growing Up Navajo

Dr. Harold Begay, Navajo Nation Superintendent (Select) of Schools, Department of Diné Education, shares reflections on his life.
image of professor in his office
Harold Begay; photo courtesy Harold Begay

SPICE has been working with the Navajo Nation for ten years. SPICE featured Dr. Harold Begay in a webinar called “Indigenous Voices: Educational Perspectives from Navajo, Native Hawaiian, and Ainu Scholars in the Diaspora” on June 18, 2021. On the occasion of National Native American Heritage Day, November 26, 2021, SPICE invited him to share reflections on his life.


The Journey from a Community Trash Dump Scavenger to U.C. Berkeley

There was a youngster, a scavenger at an early age who had to rummage through the community trash dump for winter firewood and other discarded household items. This youngster from a single-parent home living on a traditional livestock economy on the Navajo Reservation, speaking only his Navajo language, entered school in his elementary school years and was able to attain nationally normed test scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in the upper 80s and 90s. He initially spent his kindergarten and first grade years as a student running away along with other local school kids from a U.S. government boarding school. He was transferred to the local state public school, and beginning in second grade, his homeroom teacher stayed with him grade-to-grade (looping) through his high school years. He dropped out of high school but came back, graduated, and was recommended by an Arizona State Senator, as required for admission, and by his high school teachers, counselors, and principal, to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He instead enrolled at Arizona State University with “Honors at Entrance.” He dropped out of pre-med, enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and spent time in the Vietnam War before being medevacked out of Vietnam during the Tet Offensive in 1968. He spent some four weeks in the Naval Hospital in Guam, another month in the Naval Hospital in San Diego, and was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot Casualty Company and is a disabled veteran.

After Vietnam and work in construction as an iron worker, he returned to college, graduated in three years with a B.A. in psychology and earned an M.A. in counseling the following year from Northern Arizona University. He then earned a Ph.D. in school finance and education administration from the University of Arizona.

He began work at the University of Arizona for four years, then moved out to the most disenfranchised under-resourced rural school sites—school sites with the most persistent student academic underachievement state-wide. He began the local community college branch, then Navajo Community College, now Diné College, for his community and surrounding area wherein he taught for a couple years. He worked at the lowest achieving district with the second lowest per pupil wealth in the county. Within the past five years, in concert with Stanford University, his district high school exceeded all the eight school districts’ math achievement in the county, including the school district with the highest per pupil wealth.

He has been appointed as a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. He has published in refereed journals, and contributed chapters to two scholarly books. He has been honored by the Arizona State Department of Education with the “Certificate of Distinction Award” and “Stars of Arizona Education”; by the Arizona Gifted Education Association as “Gifted Administrator of the Year”; and by the North Central Association of Elementary and Secondary Schools with the “National Innovative Award.” He has turned down speaking engagements from several state education departments, school board organizations, and universities in countries including China, England, New Zealand, and Ecuador.

His school district has worked in collaboration with Stanford University for some 20 years and in the process has attained unprecedented academic achievement profiles for the school district. There is much more to this, but who is this person? The person is writing this brief bio for you so that you may get to know him a little better.
~Harold G. Begay, Ph.D.

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