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Danny Chan La, Deseret Morning News
Eileen Quintana works with American Indian students at Grant School in Springville.

SPRINGVILLE — Her work with American Indian children through the Nebo School District has earned Eileen Quintana the first-ever state award for life skills.

Utah State Office of Education Life Skills specialist Alan Griffin recently surprised Quintana with the award at the Grant School where she runs the program as Title VII American Indian program coordinator.

Quintana began the program nine years ago as a part-time job. She now works full time.

The study of life skills is a departure from traditional teaching. The Title VII program teaches the youths how to live and work in their native world and "white man's world," said district spokeswoman Lana Hiskey.

J. Lynn Jones, director of special education and federal programs for Nebo School District nominated Quintana for the award.

Since she began the program high school graduation rates among Indians have risen 60 percent, from 37 to 97 percent in the Nebo School District.

"These students have high moral values and contribute in academic areas as well as visual art, dance and music," Hiskey said. "They easily find employment due to their diverse training and focus on people skills."

Based on that success, Quintana earlier received an award from Forest Cuch, director of Utah Division of Indian Affairs, Hiskey said.

The American Indian program operates after regular school hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Grant School. In June Quintana holds an optional summer program.

She brings in specialists to teach the youngsters from preschool to age 18 a wide range of subjects, including Navajo, English, math and history.

Most students are Navajo, but Paiutes, Shoshonis, Goshutes, Cheyenne River Sioux, Utes and Chippewas also attend.

American Indian students often perform their native songs and dances at national conventions. In 2002 they performed at the Winter Olympics.

In April, the school district brings them together to share their teachings, dances and songs. More than 25 tribes gather to compete in dance competitions in traditional regalia.

Last fall Quintana and two other Title VII stalwarts represented Nebo School District at the National Title VII Conference in Hawaii.

Title VII, an American Indian grant program, dates to the 19th century and is one of the last remaining Indian treaty rights.