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Rose Hammock is a natural leader.

The sway of the 16-year-old junior at Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa comes in the form of a slew of unabashed questions for teachers and speakers.

And it shows in how Hammock is often seen sitting with the most timid students<NO1> at the school<NO>, teacher Brian Farrell said.

"She has guts," said Farrell, who led Hammock in a<NO1>n AVID<NO> college prep program last year. "Her curiosity is conspicuous."

Hammock is an honor roll student and member of the schools Link Crew in charge of mentorship of new students.

<NO1>She loves literature and creative writing.

<NO>Hammock said she wasn't always interested in school.

She found her footing in 2008 when she began dancing with a group at Sonoma County Indian Health.

Hammock is <NO1><NO>Pomo with great grandparents belonging to both the <NO1><NO>Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians in Lake County and the Round Valley Indian Tribes in Covelo, with which she is a member.<NO1><NO> Her father is Pomo and her mother is of Nicaraguan and Mexican descent.

During a dance, "I get really calm and I don't stress," Hammock said.

Dancing has built a deep connection between Hammock and her family's long history in California. And that connection has made her feel driven to be a role model for other teens.

That reverence for her culture, and a sense of responsibility, has been contagious at Elsie Allen, a diverse campus, Farrell said.

One day last year, Hammock showed up early for <NO1>the AVID<NO>class. Without a word, she wrote a phrase of an eastern Pomo language called Bahtssal on the classroom board and when class began she took a few moments to teach the class the phrase. Classmates loved it, Farrell said.

She continued teaching Bahtssal phrases throughout the year. The exercise encouraged other students to open up about their heritage.

"This reverence for her culture that she shares makes our school a bigger and better place," Farrell said.

Hammock said she wants to study psychology and become a social worker. "I'm interested in how our brains work, not just because of our environment but things that we inherit from family, how we grow up."

She spends about three days at an after-school program at Sonoma County Indian Health. Students do their own work but also help each other with homework and talk out problems.

As one of the older students in the group, Hammock said she makes a point to ask others if they need help. She tries to be inquisitive about how they're doing in school.

Her strong ties with the Indian community helped Hammock through family loss.

Last year, three teen boys belonging to Sonoma County's Indian community committed suicide. One was Hammock's cousin, 19-year-old Brent Smith<NO1>, a former Elsie Allen student<NO>.

Distraught with grief, Hammock said dancing helped her understand how to move forward.

"It is still fresh. I'm still not really over it, but I've learned how to cope with it," Hammock said.

The deaths launched discussions about the alarming high rate of suicide among Sonoma County's American Indian/Alaska Native residents.

And Hammock is among a group of teens who are planning videos, discussion groups and other events to ensure teens know they are not alone.

"Whatever it takes to get the word out, I am willing to do it," Hammock said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com.)