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Bois Forte educator returns home

NETT LAKE, Minn. - The Bois Forte people of Minnesota have a strong sense
of community pride and service. Teresa Strong, a home-grown kid, returned
to Nett Lake as a teacher and become principal of the Nett Lake School.

Strong is exactly what the tribal officials, elders and community members
have in mind.

She is a graduate of the very school she now heads as principal and is also
a product of the reservation. She attended K - 6 school at Nett Lake, then
moved to Orr where she attended high school. She married her long-time
sweetheart, Corey Strong, director of the Nett Lake Department of Natural
Resources and they have three children.

Teresa and Corey are living the dream the Bois Forte leaders and elders
hold. The two are role models for young people on the reservation. Corey
coaches little league, and Teresa and he were instrumental in starting a
task force on drug and alcohol prevention.

Now Strong has plans to earn credits that will provide her with
superintendent credentials.

Nett Lake is a public school which demonstrates the direct influence of
Ojibwe traditions through the design of the building, the art it holds and
language and culture classes. The building, with a circular center and a
long corridor that exemplifies the long house, doesn't let students forget
they are members of the Nett Lake Band.

Nett Lake School, with special programs that help young people excel, is
attracting students from other districts, which prompts tribal officials
and members to be excited about their accomplishments.

The school has successfully tapped into a national reading program and
elevated the reading skills of the students. Strong said tutoring is a key.
The students get 20 minutes of tutoring in school each day and 20 minutes
at home. An essential element is the involvement of parents in the program.

The reading program has a spill-over into other curriculum. Strong said the
students are forced to express thoughts and teachers see the benefit in
other areas.

Nett Lake School has only 65 students and the ratio of teachers to student
1 to 12 with the largest class containing 16 students. Head Start, which is
operated and financed by the band, is also located in the new school, which
gives the younger students a chance at a good transition into academic
programs since they are together all day long.

The school has a 94 percent attendance rate.

The Ojibwe language and culture is taught to children as young as age 3 by
elder Gene Goodsky.

The success of Nett Lake School may force additions to the structure in the
future. The Head Start and day care programs in addition to the band's
human resources program are housed in the school building. With an
increasing enrollment the decision will have to be made soon. Lobbying for
the new school is under way, Strong said.

Parents who work for the tribe are allowed time off to attend functions
that are scheduled during the school day, they are also allowed flex time
to attend to their children's tutoring and work at home.

When the youth of Nett Lake move on to middle and high school they are sent
to Orr, 18 miles away. There is an adjustment that takes place, Strong
said, because those students then become the minority.

But with cooperative efforts between the two schools in sports at the
elementary and middle school levels and exchange programs, the transition
is less traumatic.

Strong said students from Orr are brought to Nett Lake to experience wild
ricing, sugar camp, canoeing, orienteering and rock climbing. "It's good to
break the stereotype," she said. "The kids get to know each other." As a
result of the cooperation more students from Nett Lake are participating in
the student council and are invited to join the honor society.

Nett Lake School has plans to provide each fifth and sixth grade student
with a laptop computer. The computers will help with reading, research and
communication skills, Strong said.

The Nett Lake government contributes only $30,000 per year to the school,
and that revenue comes from the 1854 funds. Those funds were awarded to the
band based on the 1854 treaty that ceded most of the band's land. A
settlement with the state over hunting and fishing rights provides
substantial funding each year for the band members.

While problems still exist for youth on the Nett Lake Reservation, the
council continues to work toward solving them. A new softball field was
constructed to add to one that already existed. Little league and T-ball
are popular programs for young people. A youth center also is open and a
majority of young people take advantage of the center.

The idea is to provide enough for young people to get involved in to lessen
the need to get into trouble. There are drugs and alcohol on Nett Lake, but
it is still a very much a safe and clean reservation, Strong said.

The Strongs are part of the drug and alcohol task force. They said that as
more people return to the reservation they bring some of the problems of
the cities with them.

Education works, the Strongs argue. Corey said out of six Indian students
in his class in high school, four or five have returned to work for the
tribe or their own a business.

Teresa said there will be a student teacher in the system this year from
Nett Lake. She was a student teacher when she was in school, and after
graduation came to Nett Lake to teach, now she is the principal.