Lapwai superintendent David Aiken sees teaching Native American culture, tradition and language to his students as an important way to build self-esteem, which leads to an increase in student achievement. That’s why he regularly collaborates with the Lapwai community to facilitate their joint committed to preserving Nez Perce culture and helping kids be successful.
“We’re unique because we’re surrounded by Native American culture you wouldn’t see anywhere else,” Aiken said.
The Lapwai School District sits on the Nez Perce reservation and 86 percent of its students are American Indian. Curriculum includes Nez Perce language classes, Native American history and Native American art. Historical field trips and tribal cultural presentations are frequent.
Students are offered Nez Perce language classes from Idaho’s only Nez Perce language certified teacher. American Indian art classes are taught by Jennie Williams, an artist whose native art and weaving has been featured in the Smithsonian Institution.
“The Nez Perce cultures and traditions are part of the culture here,” Aiken said.
Nez Perce history and language is even integrated into the district’s anti-bullying and conflict resolution process. The process was so well received by students and staff that it is being developed into classroom lessons.
Collaborating with Nez Perce Tribe
The district has goals to perpetually bring in community members so the cultural traditions and art of the Nez Perce tribe remain alive. Tribe members are a valued resource — volunteering time in the classrooms to help integrate traditions and pass down information.
“The tribe is a critical component to our success,” Aiken said. “Education is valued in the Nez Perce tribe.”
The district hosts quarterly educational summits where students, teachers and administrators present educational programs and school programs to the Nez Perce tribe’s executive committee. This is one of many ways the district communicates with the tribe and gathers feedback for the schools.
“This is a major effort showing commitment to honoring the culture of the majority of their students,” said Joyce McFarland, education manager for the Nez Perce tribe’s education department. “Lapwai is making a concerted effort to expand culturally relevant education practices. The school welcomes the input of our tribal people, so I will continue to commit to Leadership Team to find positive solutions.”
Providing Support to School Culture
In addition to the tribe’s education department and Lapwai district’s leadership team, McFarland is part of the Nez Perce Higher Education Scholarship program, where tribal students pursuing higher education can receive aid and prepare for further education.
Recently, The U.S. Department of Education awarded the Nez Perce Tribe a $451,481 grant to increase the role of Tribal Education Agencies. This grant is specifically designed to meet the unique educational and cultural needs of American Indian students. McFarland will work with the Nez Perce Tribal Education Agency and State Tribal Education Partnership to promote collaboration, improve staff performance, build capacity and engage families.
McFarland and the rest of the district leadership team are dedicated to school improvement. The team continues to delve into strategies to keep education rich with culture and keep the Nez Perce traditions alive with the Lapwai students.