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USA Unites Award Winners

Kayla Dawn Begay

NAVAJO, NM
Founder, Dził Ditł'ooí School of Empowerment, Action and Perseverance (DEAP)

Kayla Dawn Begay is a Diné woman from the community of Navajo, NM. She is Tódích’íi’nii (Bitter Water Clan) born for Táchii’nii (Red Running into the Water Clan). Growing up on the Navajo reservation, Kayla, co-founder of Dził Ditł'ooí School of Empowerment, Action and Perseverance (DEAP), saw firsthand the astounding effects of an inadequate educational system. Her upbringing on the reservation has served as the catalyst to her unrelenting desire to serve her local community. With failing schools plaguing the Navajo Nation for years, Kayla sought advanced educational opportunities and left home to attend a private prep school in Connecticut, followed by her admittance into college in California. During her time away from the reservation, Kayla realized her growing desire to give back to her local community in a way that would have a positive, lasting effect.

Kayla returned to fulfill the desire of Diné Nation’s wish that Navajo students go and get an education and return to make their communities better. Kayla returned home to teach at Navajo Elementary, her childhood school. Her experiences enabled her to be a role model for her students, staff and community members in her actions and mindsets of hope, strength, perseverance, and belief that anything is possible. In the classroom, Kayla is able to build and maintain strong relationships with her students and their families and convey her love and belief in their ability to succeed despite so many obstacles against them. Her work with the community of Navajo and partnership with the NACA Inspired Schools Network (NISN) to create a charter school based in the community vision speaks volumes to her understanding and deep belief that all students deserve an education that allows them to be firm in their identities and reclaim their rights as Native people on a sovereign land. DEAP is scheduled to open in September 2015 and will focus on college and career readiness through an indigenous core of Navajo empowerment, experiential learning through agriculture, wellness, community leadership, and service learning. Kayla believes DEAP is more than just a school; it is a way to empower and rebuild the community and Navajo Nation. Kayla’s commitment and dedication to providing a better education to Navajo children exemplifies what it means to give back to those who need it the most. Kayla is currently the Head Teacher at DEAP, NACA Inspired Schools Network Fellow, W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network Fellow, Teach for America Alumni, and serves on the Red Lake-Navajo Community Action Group Council.

Kayla Dawn Begay