DENVER—The first of several planned urban Indian/U.S. Department of Education (DOE) consultations took place March 4 in Denver where there is “a sense of urgency” to improve schools and services to Native students.
The Denver community “will unite and must unite” in partnership with other agencies to improve Indian students’ graduation rates, said Jay Grimm, the Navajo executive director of Denver Indian Center, where the wide-ranging “Listening and Learning” session was held.
All federal agencies have been charged with developing an action plan and with fulfilling trust responsibilities to Native nations by connecting with tribes, Charlie Rose, DOE general counsel, said.
The initiatives are in response to a need to emphasize tribal education in the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind legislation and to the suicide crisis among Indian youth, which he said would be an important priority transcending administrations.
Rose also cited a need to preserve Native language and culture, a requirement that the DOE work more closely with the Department of the Interior, and a need to elevate the position of Indian education within the DOE.
There are 1,200 Native students in Denver Public Schools (DPS) and a graduation rate that lags behind that of other students, said Rose Marie McGuire, director of the Indian Education Program for DPS.
She recommended a focus on early education, specific allocation of educational support funds to the urban Indian programs where most Native students are found, greater parent awareness, and a priority on suicide prevention. Transportation can be a problem for Native students, particularly those going to high-performing schools, she said.
Quinton Roman Nose, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, of the National Indian Education Association (NIEA) board of directors, and Carol Harvey, Navajo, executive secretary of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs, discussed the role distance learning and online education could play in Native communities. Harvey said online learning could be “such a benefit that could be presented to our students so easily,” describing a Ute history class developed by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.
Among those who addressed the federal officials was Niabi Hart, Sac and Fox, a mother of four who works with Native youth. She said there are problems with cultural awareness in schools and school curricula, and sometimes among non-Natives who work with Native youth, calling for greater accountability among teachers and administrators.
She and others said Native students sometimes have to cope with social problems at home that make learning more difficult in school, prompting Rose to advocate better coordination among national-level Health and Human Services, DOE, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Justice.
Jerry Lassos, Tongva, a board member of top-rated West Denver Preparatory School, told the federal officials that an alternative licensure program can be an important way to bring Native language and culture into schools, even though teachers may not be trained in the traditional way.
William Mendoza, Sicangu Lakota, acting director, White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities, suggested that the way in which tribal colleges impact the broader American Indian community has yet to be determined. The 36 tribal colleges are in less than one percent of Indian country and represent an “area we have not yet tapped into.”
Michael Yudin, deputy assistant secretary, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, said there is $127 million in the Indian-specific education budget, and he advocated tapping some of the $14.5 billion allocated to support education services to low-income populations, including increasing teacher quality.
Additional consultation sessions are planned in April and May in Green Bay, Wisconsin and Stockton and Los Angeles, California, and will be held in other locations as well, officials said.