Garryowen couple receives education award

2010-10-05T23:42:00Z Garryowen couple receives education awardSUSAN OLP Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
October 05, 2010 11:42 pm  • 

Chuck and Ramona Real Bird, both retired educators and parents of three college graduates, will be honored nationally this weekend for their devotion to kids — theirs and others.

They’ve been named Parents of the Year by the National Indian Education Association. They will receive their award at a gala banquet in San Diego on Saturday, part of the NIEA’s 41st annual convention and trade show.

Ten winners will be honored. Another Montanan, Eloise Cobell of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe, will receive a lifetime achievement award.

Crow Tribe members

The Real Birds, of Garryowen, are both enrolled members of the Crow Tribe, and were nominated for the award by Jennifer Flat Lip, director of the Crow Tribe’s Education Department.

Flat Lip, herself a retired school teacher in Crow Agency, said she saw Ramona and Chuck’s hard work over the years.

“They have given unselfishly of their time and energy over many years to improve the education of Native American Youth,” Flat Lip wrote.

The couple established parent committees in schools where there were none, Flat Lip said. They organized and hosted traditional clan feeds at schools and raised money to buy band instruments for students.

Chuck and Ramona also established language and cultural programs to make sure that knowledge would be passed to the next generation, Flat Lip said.

They are parents of Shawn, Timothy and Nicole, all in their 40s. All three earned bachelor’s degrees. Shawn and Nicole also have master’s degrees.

Chuck said he and Ramona taught their children four principles to guide their lives: discipline, respect, responsibility and to have goals.

Getting involved

Ramona added that they spent a lot of time encouraging their children in a myriad of activities, and as educators they worked to get other parents involved.

Ramona took that initiative when she worked at Crow Public School.

“I saw a need once I was in the classroom,” she said Tuesday. “At parent-teacher conferences, hardly any parents came and met with us to review the students’ abilities and capabilities.”

To help parents become more comfortable in a school setting, she made it attractive for them to come on campus. A meal would be followed by a talk.

As parents came to campus more often, it helped the students to see their parents involved in their education, said Ramona, who was an educator for 33 years.

“That was a starting point for the parents and the whole family to get together and learn, and I thought that was great,” she said.

Chuck was adviser of the Indian Club at Hardin High. To promote traditional values, he would put on activities to remind them of their culture and language. The couple taught all three of their children to speak fluent Crow.

Chuck started a flag football team when his oldest son was in about sixth grade so his boys could get some good experience before playing in school. He also organized a high school rodeo in Hardin.

The parents also spent lots of money and drove endless hours around the state to watch their kids play sports.

The arts weren’t neglected, though.

When their children were elementary school, Ramona said, she and Chuck saw a real need to raise money for musical instruments so the school could have a band class. Not many parents could afford to buy or rent instruments.

Garage sales and other fundraisers helped and “that started the band program,” she said. “It’s gone on in a big way over the years.”

Ramona comes from a long line of educators. Her great-great-grandmother was a student at a boarding school, and she came back home to become a matron, or teacher’s aide. Her great-grandmother had no education, Ramona said, but valued it highly.

“She instilled a love of learning, and I decided I would go out and do something with my life, which would be significant for the children and myself,” Ramona said.

Ramona’s mother was among the first teachers at Crow Public School. Ramona followed in her footsteps, and she helped start Head Start in Crow Agency and worked in many other education roles. Now her daughter is a teacher at the Crow Agency school and earned the title of teacher of the year there.

Ramona said she and Chuck are were surprised to be selected for the honor out of all the members of more than 500 Native tribes in the NIEA in the lower 48 states, Alaska, Hawaii and Canada.

“Out of all the honored people in these states and countries, Charlie and I are humbled to accept this award on behalf of ourselves, our family and the Crow Tribe, and all the parents and grandparents that preceded us,” she said.

Contact Susan Olp at solp@billingsgazette.com or 657-1281.

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