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A Better Education for Native Students: The Morongo Method

Morongo School offers a promising way for Indian nations to educate their children so they have foundation in their culture and are ready for college.

The Morongo School offers a promising way for Indian nations and communities to educate their children so they have a firm foundation in their own culture, and acquire skills to gain entry and complete college.

The current state of Indian education is dismal and new methods and ideas are needed. Most Indian students attend Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) or public schools. In recent decades the achievement scores of Indian students has dropped rather than increased. Among the major ethnic groups in the United States, Indian student college preparation is among the lowest of all major ethnic groups. Nationally, about 40 percent of high school students are prepared for college, only about 15 percent of American Indian students are prepared for college. Less than one percent of college graduates are Indian students. Indian student college graduate rates are significantly lower than their representation in national population.

Indian education has been in crisis for many decades. Current policy and research on American Indian education presents a list of cultural, teaching, and discriminatory obstacles for Indian students in BIA and public schools. However, policy makers do not provide a usable or successful plan for how Indian students will get the education skills they need. Current Indian education policy does not address the need for well-educated and culturally grounded Indian professionals who will ensure the continuity, autonomy, and well-being of Indian nations. Incremental improvements in the BIA and public schools have not created significant increases in Indian student achievement or cultural foundations, or a well-informed tribal citizenry.

The Morongo Indian School provides a plan that all tribal nations should consider. Like many Indian tribes, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians invested heavily in mentoring and after school programs. The tribe won a national award for its education support program.

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However, tribal community members, parents, and tribal leadership, noticed that while the mentoring program was helping some students get through high school, most were not prepared for college. Furthermore, the Morongo tribe wanted their tribal citizens to graduate from college and professional schools, and return to the reservation to help build and maintain the tribal government and community. The tribe offered to pay college expenses for all students who wanted to attend college, but did not get a response from most students, because they were not sufficiently prepared to succeed in college.

For about the same budget cost as the mentor program, the Morongo tribe decided to build a tribally managed private school. Currently the school covers K-8th grade, and in fall 2013, the Morongo School will create a 9th grade class, and each year after will create a new high school class. By 2015, the school will cover K-12.

A major advantage of the school are the low teacher-student ratios. The 8th grade has eight students and is taught be a teacher and a teacher assistant. Students get direct attention, whereas in large BIA and public schools Indian students are marginalized and do not get enough attention. The curriculum emphasizes nation building, culture, reading, math, environment, and writing. Cultural activities and knowledge are built into leadership, cultural games, and cultural classes. Test scores in math and reading have increased dramatically for both strong students and initially low scoring students.

The curriculum provides enough support for students to create high levels of achievement, and students do not need a secondary mentoring program. Students can rest, do homework, and join their families after a normal school day. The curriculum is designed to prepare students for college from their first day in kindergarten. The Head of School, Jerry Livesey, says he expects to send 90 percent of the students onto successful college careers. High school students will be encouraged to take college courses and substitute them for high school courses.

Tribally controlled private schools can produce tribal citizens with cultural and academic skills that will enable them to contribute to sustaining tribal nations.