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Golden Apple Moments

Sara Marie Ortiz Celebrates Diversity, History and Sovereignty among Native Learners

Sara Marie Ortiz leads the Native Education Program at Highline Public Schools – a program relaunched in the summer of 2013 with a mission and vision to build healthy, strong relationships with Native learners and their families. There is a strong focus on connectivity, community and sovereignty as means to serve a wide diaspora of Native nations in Washington State and beyond. 

“Our sovereign tribal nations are many, and they are powerful. And they have always been inherently sovereign. The sovereignty not gifted by the United States government, but predating the United States government and really being deeply rooted in those relationships to land and water and our ecosystems and each other,” Ortiz said. 

The Native Education Program at Highline Public Schools is often referred to as a legacy program because of its original operation, which dates back to when the Indian Education Act passed in the United States in 1972 -- many native education programs were developed and established all over the country. 

“Our program and its earliest iteration was founded in 1974. There have been multiple rockstar, native education leaders who have stewarded the program, developed it and made it what it is. I was lucky enough to come into my role in summer of 2013 and quickly set about the work of engagement and relationship-building,” Ortiz said.

In the midst of the current pandemic, Ortiz been faced the challenge of serving Native learners in an educational environment that is both hands-on and digital.

“It really is a hybrid. It is a complex ever evolving world of ideas and practices and principles to continue to serve our students and center our culture, center our community, center traditional knowledge and knowledge systems, tribal languages in a format or an environment that isn't always the most conducive to doing the work that we most need to do. Zoom is great. Google Classrooms are great, but we know that they have their limits,” Ortiz said.

Serving Native learners isn’t a one-way approach: Ortiz recognizes the importance of each member of the community and what they need to be successful. It’s a collaborative, community effort.

“We provide support and resources outside of just one context. This really is about community-building and nation-building, leveraging resources, sharing resources, whatever we have with each other. No matter what tribal nations we come from, no matter where our reservations, our traditional homelands are, especially as urban native people, we help, we connect in all the ways that we possibly can, and we support each other with all we have with all we are.”

What are KCTS 9 Golden Apple Moments?

The Golden Apple Moments program celebrates educators, programs and schools making a positive difference in Washington State education, from early childhood through high school. KCTS 9 shares these bright-spot success stories of innovative educators and programs through all its content delivery channels: KCTS 9,, social media and partner channels.  

Golden Apple Moments are profiles of those who inspire us. Those who think a little differently and are reimagining the way we teach our young people. They are individuals who are not waiting around for someone to tell them how to move our education system forward. They are pushing the boundaries, engaging our youth to advance and succeed in a rapidly changing world. Golden Apple Moments focus less on complex statistics and benchmark results and more on a teacher, a program or a school’s novel idea or approach — why and how it is challenging the status quo and inspiring others.

Golden Apple Moments highlight the educators, program administrators and nonprofits/organizations working to improve education outcomes and discover new blueprints for success for children in Washington State and around the country.

The KCTS 9 Golden Apple Moments are made possible through funding from PEMCO Insurance. Nominations are now open for the 2021 school year.

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PEMCO Insurance is a proud sponsor of Golden Apple Moments, which recognizes those who have made Washington schools better places for learning.

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