JDHS counselor Frank Coenraad helped start the program 10 years ago with the hope of helping Native students achieve their goals after high school.
"One of the things when we first started was providing a support system for students who are highly able for something for them to aspire to," Coenraad said.
Volunteer Victoria Johnson said the program helps Native students by giving them leadership training, preparing them for standardized tests and taking them to see various college campuses.
"When this started a while back, everyone was so focused on the negative side of what Native students were doing," Johnson said.
"Mr. Coenraad thought it was time to celebrate the positive."
Junior Thomas Mills joined the program as a freshman with encouragement from his parents.
"I didn't want to do it at first, but once I got in I was glad that I did," Mills said.
"It's a nice environment and everybody is really close. It's like a family."
To be in the program, students must complete an application and maintain a grade point average of 2.5 or higher, Johnson said.
"Having bad grades is not an option in the program," said senior Nathan Kickock, who plans to attend a junior college in Hawaii next year. "They really encourage Native kids at looking at college. It helps out a lot. You'd be surprised at how much it helps. It's really nice."
If funding is available, students enrolled in the upper level history class associated with the program take a trip to visit college campuses. Last year students went to San Francisco. This April students will travel to Boston.
"It's an opportunity to be on other campuses for different schools like a junior college, a vocational school or a four-year university and give them an opportunity to see what all of those options look like," Coenraad said.
Mills said he is planning to attend Stanford University to go to law school.
"I sort of wanted to be in law school, but I didn't know where to go. On the trip I decided that I really liked Stanford and they found some people for me to talk to there," Mills said. "I have always wanted to go to college, but being in the program showed me what it takes."
The program started 10 years ago with about 20 students and now boasts more than 50 students.
Senior Katy Waid heard about the program as an eighth-grader and has been involved since her freshman year of high school. She said she was initially nervous about what to expect, but has gained insight about what the future may hold for her.
"I'm sure everyone has said we're just like a family. That's how I feel because we do things together, and can count on each other," said Waid, who plans to next year pursue a teaching degree at University of Alaska Southeast.
While academics is a large part of the program, Johnson said Early Scholars also focuses on Native culture. Students will present Raven Tales, a cultural event and fundraiser, at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24, at the Tlingit and Haida Community Council building. Events include storytelling, song and dance performances and auctions. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.