Governing Board member A.T. Sinquah presented the Outstanding Alumnus Award to Gary Polacca, center. Ms. Claude Endfield, chairman of the Early Childhood Development program, was Gary's mentor and nominated him for the honor.
In her letter of nomination for the award of Northland Pioneer College Outstanding Alumnus, Professor Claude Endfield noted that Gary Polacca first began attending NPC in 1983 and graduated with an Associate of Applied Science in Early Childhood Development in May of 1994. Gary says of those eleven years that things came up that often got in the way of taking classes. Yet, as he explains, "My father had been insistent that I accomplish many things for a better way of life, and I knew I had to achieve my goal of getting an education."
In turn, Gary has the highest admiration for his former instructor. "Claude would come to the Head Start schools (on the Hopi Reservation) and encourage us to keep at our work and studies. She's the one that pushed me, helping me become the person I am today. She has been a great asset in my life."
From his start in the 1980's as a Head Start teacher, Gary went on to become a substance abuse counselor at Polacca Day School, and from there earned his bachelor's degree from Prescott College and then a Master's degree from NAU. He was an elementary school teacher at both Second Mesa Day School and Polacca Day School, and now is the principal at the newly-built, two-year-old Second Mesa Day School facility.
Born at the Indian hospital in Keams Canyon, Gary spent his youngest years in the Hopi Village of Shungopavi, but in the mid 1950s moved to northern Utah where his parents were employed with the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah. Unlike many Native American students in Indian boarding schools during this time, Gary was with his family while he attended Intermountain. After a dozen years in Utah, the family returned to Arizona where Gary graduated from Tuba City High School.
Gary says growing up away from the reservation was a likely inspiration for his entering the field of education. "I wanted children to realize another world exists beyond the world of the Hopi people, and that knowledge of what lies beyond our borders would help us control our own destiny."
For now Gary is intent that his school earn a 100 percent No Child Left Behind performance rating by 2014, although he thinks that will be incredibly difficult to do. Even so, since the NCLB was created in 2002, Second Mesa Day School has achieved Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) ratings every year, a significant achievement.
The school is imbued with his goals for educational attainment. A current program requires all teacher assistants at Second Mesa to take six hours of NPC education courses while Second Mesa pays for the tuition and the books for these classes. "We might be unique with this program," says Gary, "but we want our assistants to go on with their educations and get their bachelor degrees so they can then teach for us."
As for his personal educational goals, Gary says he is contemplating going for his doctorate in the near future. Where he will find time might be a problem. He is married and the father of eight ranging in age from 7 to 25. And he has another passion as well as education; he is a potter. An Internet search using his name reveals that he is not merely a hobbyist, but a noted artisan. He learned the art of pot making from his father, Thomas, who was a highly regarded potter, who, in turn, had been taught by his mother, Fannie Polacca, the daughter of the world renowned potter Nampeyo.
His accomplishments underscore the obvious reasons why Gary Polacca is being honored with the NPC Outstanding Alumnus Award. He has fully engaged in so many aspects of lifelong learning and then used that education to the benefit of his community and his people.
As an Outstanding Alumnus, Gary receives a three-credit-hour tuition gift certificate, a $25 bookstore gift certificate and a pass to NPC Performing Arts events.