With hopefulness and enthusiasm, area educators gathered at Montana State University-Billings Monday for a two-day Indian Education For All Institute — a first for Eastern Montana.
The institute is sponsored by Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency through a grant from the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI). The institute, which can be used for continuing education credits, offers teachers a head start in developing Indian Education for All teaching strategies, and included presentations on new American Indian curriculum and literature, Crow language and culture, and teaching methods aimed at supporting struggling Indian students. Some 120 educators attended the conference.
Indian Education for All was adopted as state law by the 1999 Montana State Legislature, and last year Montana schools received about $3.1 million for Indian education. The funding includes money for all schools to provide instruction to students on the history of the state's American Indian people and the contemporary issues they face, as well as money earmarked to assist in closing the academic achievement gap between Indian students and their non-Indian peers.
Montana Superintendent of Schools Linda McCulloch called the Indian Education for All initiative a "long-overdue journey" and said OPI is working with tribal leaders to develop curriculum, design professional development programs and define classroom standards.
According to Little Bighorn College Academic Dean Everall Fox, the state's tribal colleges are rising to the occasion and working with OPI to help develop curriculum. But, Fox said Indian Education for All can be implemented in any classroom while teaching any subject.
"People think that Indian education is a totally separate subject or a separate program," he said. "It's meant to be infused into regular and core curriculum."
McCulloch cited statistics that show American Indian children need special attention in the classroom to close the achievement gap. The dropout rate for Indian students is at about 37 percent, compared to the state average of about 12 percent. And most of Montana's schools that did not make Adequate Yearly Progress according to federal No Child Left Behind mandates are either on a reservation or have a high American Indian population.
"Our Native American students will excel if we expect it of them and if you challenge them and give them the tools they need to succeed," she said.
Henrietta Mann, an American Indian studies expert at Montana State University-Bozeman, said those tools need to include lessons in the history of Indian culture that foster positive self-image and value their heritage.
"I think that when we're giving them that self-identity, it will motivate them to study harder and do better in school," Mann said.
Mann, a Cheyenne-Arapaho who has more than 30 years' experience in higher education teaching and administration, emphasized a need for American Indian children to learn the language of their tribes, the histories, traditions and spirituality, and to be introduced to their heroes — Indian scholars, athletes, political leaders and human rights activists.
"I hope that the funding continues so that we can do the kind of implementation that can be sustained over a long period of time," Mann said.
Contact Laura Tode at firstname.lastname@example.org or 657-1392.