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Turning things around

SEATTLE – Frankie Jo Cochran was one of a few students who participated in a program designed to improve the confidence and aspirations of low and moderate income inner city eighth graders from Seattle.

The program is the Lakeside Educational Enrichment Program. LEEP provides a six-week summer experience for about 90 Seattle area students each summer involving English, math and geography classes. They also go on a three-day-long overnight camping trip and participate in a crew program where the students row in eight-person shells. Frankie did so well in LEEP that she and just one other LEEP student were invited to attend Lakeside School her freshman year.

Lakeside is a non-sectarian school (not affiliated with any religion) with two campuses, one for students in fifth through eighth grades, and the bigger campus with students ninth through 12th grades; there are 777 students total.

In the last five years, more than half the senior class has been recognized in some fashion by the National Merit

Society. In fact, for the past few years, the Lakeside senior class has had SAT scores which averaged better than the average SAT scores of the freshmen class at Yale University; 99 percent of Lakeside graduates attend college.

While Frankie was a scholarship student, it cost $23,500 annually to attend the school in tuition costs alone; the total cost including all fees, food, books and transportation are estimated to be about $30,000 annually.

Lakeside is well-known because of some of its famous alumni. Some may not remember the original Batman, Adam West, from the television series; more people know the names of more recent alums, Paul Allen and Bill Gates, co-founders of the Microsoft Company.

Frankie’s first year at Lakeside was difficult. She was smart enough, but she came from circumstances very different from most Lakeside students. Her earlier schools did not prepare her for the rigorous education of Lakeside. Frankie is part Assiniboine and a member of the White Clay People (A’AH’NI NIN) aka Gros-Ventres Tribe of Montana. Her mother and father moved their family from Montana several years ago because of the discrimination against American Indians in the area.


During Frankie Jo Cochran’s four years at Lakeside School she proposed a student-sponsored day to teach the rest of the Lakeside community about American Indians. She is seen here at the event (right). Dancing with her in red is Toresia Woods and in black is Myleaka Webster.

When Frankie first came to Lakeside, she exhibited a typical urban street tough attitude. She was ready to get physical with anybody who messed with her with the slightest provocation. She held on to her street tough credentials her first year. She was the only person in the school who looked like an American Indian. Her adjustment to school was difficult. She became depressed; her physical health deteriorated. Her mother, the rock of her nuclear and extended family, almost pulled her out because she thought Lakeside might actually kill her daughter.

Remarkably, Frankie returned her sophomore year and with some assistance from Lakeside, started to turn things around. She dropped math during her difficult freshman year. She wanted to catch up with her classmates in math so badly that she took two math classes her junior year to get back on track. That same year, she took her first plane ride to Boston on a school-sponsored trip; this was the first time she had been away from her family. As a senior, she became a leader in the Black Student Union.

This year, Frankie proposed a student-sponsored day to teach the rest of the Lakeside community about American Indians. All regular classes stopped at the high school for a day to focus on the educational program the students organized. Frankie and another student led the organization of the day to share American Indian culture with the rest of the school. While the students had help from faculty advisors, they did the bulk of the work to make the day possible.

Rose Main, Frankie’s aunt, gave the keynote address. Students learned how to do bead work, dance and sing American Indian style. They also learned about coastal tribal culture, Indian law and much more. The day culminated in a pow wow, the first for Lakeside. During the pow wow, the American Indian visitors reflected a spirit of oneness that took over the school and clearly reflected the feeling that we are one people. Some consider that day the best student-sponsored day in the history of Lakeside.

Frankie distinguished herself even before that as one of the few female wrestlers at the school (one young man at the public high school around the corner from Lakeside may never forget getting pinned by Frankie in one of her wrestling matches.) She also boxes out of a local gym.

Frankie will graduate this month and join the Lakeside alumni. She will attend Ithaca College in New York in the fall. She has reconciled the two very different worlds in which she lives. Her mother is still the rock. She cannot decide whether she wants to become a physician or an attorney, but she knows she wants to improve life for other American Indians.

Frankie has been a part of a world she never knew existed before she came to Lakeside School. She now knows that she can operate successfully without giving up the world and culture that centers her. She will always be A’AH’NI NIN. This young woman who barely survived her first year at Lakeside School will graduate a stronger young woman who has contributed more to this school than anyone ever thought possible.

If any child ever needs to hear an uplifting story about hard work, courage and determination, reflect on Frankie’s story. If she can do it, many others can too. We all celebrate this child of Montana and of the Great Spirit. Congratulations to Frankie, her family and the White Clay People.

T.J. Vassar is Frankie Jo Cochran’s college counselor, academic advisor and a U.S. history teacher.