Leaders recognize lack of Native American educators as concern

A panel of state leaders fielded questions from about 120 educators interested in Native American education topics Monday in Lewiston.

LEWISTON — Idaho leaders faced a number of systemic education concerns from the Native American community at Lewis-Clark State College Monday.

The Idaho Education Summit is being held this year on the LCSC campus. The annual event brings together state and Native American education leaders for a two-day event focused on discussing solutions. Their topics ranged from supporting Native student wellbeing and Nez Perce cultural standards, to the relationship Indigenous people have with water and how to fix the plight of Indigenous students being undercounted. 

A panel of education officials with the State Board of Education, Department of Education, Lewis-Clark and University of Idaho fielded about a dozen questions in the college’s Williams Conference Center in front of about 120 teachers and administrators.

One question asked, how do we effectively address the systemic issues that increase the wide learning gap and the subsequent low college graduation rates that exist among Native American students compared to their white peers in K-20 public educational school systems?

Idaho State Board of Education President Linda Clark said, “I do believe that we’re at a point now where the data is screaming at us that we must do something — take action to put our Native American students on an academic level that is on-par with everyone else — and we’re failing.”

She suggested creating a working group to study the data and formulate recommendations. 

The educational needs of certain demographic groups are not being met by teacher training or preparation programs: English language learners, special education students and Idaho’s indigenous community, Clark added.

“Most teachers do not come out of their teacher training programs with the kind of skills they need to address the individual needs of all of those groups,” Clark said. “You have to teach differently for native students.”

Educators need improved training resources and there needs to be a change in curriculum, she told the audience.

“There is a huge gap,” Clark said.

Andrew Hanson, LCSC vice-president of student affairs, concurred, “I think that teacher preparation can be key to this, but I want to go a little bit more deeply on this question.” 

The data shows that disparities exist between Native and non-Native students. “What is less available are the explanations behind those data,” Hanson said, so discovering “why” this disparity exists is important.

A second question asked, please identify a few strategies or initiatives that you can implement under your purview that can strengthen relationships and collaborations between the tribes and the educational system?

Critchfield said, “There’s one that I want to specifically call out because I believe that if we can strengthen the consultation process between our (tribes) and our local districts — meaning superintendents and school boards — that may have the greatest impact in our local areas.”

Through this consultation process, she said, the state will better understand the resources available and the needs of its native communities.

“I’m focused on this area,” she said.

Addressing the low number of Native American teachers

Particularly in rural communities where Native American students live, there are teacher shortages, Critchfield told the audience.

There has to be specific attention to how we attract our Native students into thinking about being a teacher,” Critchfield said. 

Regardless of where you live, Critchfield said teachers are not being encouraged to join the profession. “The teaching profession itself has taken on a connotation that you maybe don’t want to get involved in this profession.”

One solution she highlighted is her new teacher apprentice program that passed the Legislature this year. The idea is to allow aspiring teachers to work as paid apprentices while they pursue their bachelor’s degree.

Clark said the lack of interest in teaching is “heartbreaking.”

U of I’s Idaho Tribal Nations Scholarship

U of I announced a new tribal scholarship for enrolled members of Idaho’s five tribes. The scholarship covers the full cost of tuition at U of I.

Students can choose an undergraduate degree in any field of study. The university is covering the cost of this scholarship, said Yolanda Bissbee, executive director of tribal relations and a member of the Indian Education Committee.

“(The tribes) are loving it and want to see it expand and grow,” Bisbee said. “It’s a good step of many steps the university has taken to support tribal education in Idaho.”

To obtain information about the scholarship, contact the university’s Native American Student Center

Bisbee estimates that up to 20 students will utilize the first-year program. If more apply, she and other organizers will consider each applicant.

The Native American Student Center supports students in three areas: academic, cultural and social.

Academically, they provide tutoring, career services and financial aid advising; culturally, they host food events and bead or moccasin making classes; socially, they help students get involved in intramural basketball or volleyball leagues, powwows and holiday events.

Darren Svan

Darren Svan

Reporter Darren Svan has a background in both journalism and education. Prior to working for military schools at overseas installations, he was news editor at several publications in Wyoming and Colorado. You can send news tips to [email protected].

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