Encouraging student leadership
PUYALLUP, Wash. - "It's time for Native youth to be seen and heard,"
proclaimed Christopher James. The 16-year-old Shelton high school senior is
adamant that Native kids need to step out and show they are proud to be
Native. James is part of the Dream Team, a youth organization that promotes
students taking leadership roles in schools and their communities. He along
with other Dream Team members took part in the 2nd Annual Washington State
Tribal Indian Education Summit at Chief Leschi School in July.
This year's theme addressed the Academic Achievement Gap and how to best
meet the needs of Native youth. Washington State Superintendent of Public
Instruction Terry Bergeson said keeping culture a focus in the schools is
important. "We want students to keep their identity and culture.
"The purpose of educational reform is to be responsible citizens - in a
tribal structure, in Washington state and in the world." Bergeson added
that "cultural competence" is a focus she believes in for all educators.
"Cultural competence is the ability to communicate, live, learn and work in
cross-cultural situations. It's important to have respect for differences,
an eagerness to learn and a willingness to accept there are many ways of
viewing the world," said Bergeson.
"The Educational Summit allowed for stakeholders, from all around the
state, to express their educational views and experiences in a
collaborative forum that will translate back into the classroom," said
Chief Leschi Superintendent Ray Lorton. "We need more collaborative efforts
from the top down into the classroom where the most effective results will
be realized," Lorton said.
Denny Hurtado, program supervisor for Indian Education with Washington
state, said using more culturally-relevant curriculum will help close the
academic achievement gap. "Culture and language is critical for our
students to meet standards and it can improve academic achievement.
Instruction needs to be broadened to include hands-on and visual activities
in small groups so our students will understand why they are doing the
work." Hurtado said his office was instrumental in having 22 books written
and illustrated by Native people for students in kindergarten through
second grade. Educating kids so they receive similar instruction is
important to Colville Tribal Chairman Joe Pakootas. "We have 12 different
public schools that our kids attend and each one educates kids differently.
One school is on the reservation and we are able to teach language, culture
and tradition. Outside the reservation it's a challenge. Teaching culture
and language is not constant," said Pakootas.
Helping educators is important to April West-Baker. As the director for
Student Support Services at Pierce College, she attended the summit to let
others know she and her team can assist students in a variety of ways. "We
can spend many hours with Native students making sure they understand how
the college process works, contacting faculty and staying in close
communication with students as they go through classes. We also have funds
for tutoring if they need additional help," said West-Baker.
Providing new technology to assist American Indian students is another
method being used to increase achievement. The Suquamish Mobile Cultural
Learning Center was on-site to show summit attendees what is being offered
to their students. The 35-foot mobile computer lab is equipped with 12 Dell
computer workstations, including a wheelchair accessible station, its own
file server, a 42' flat screen teacher's display, a color laser printer and
a poster color printer. Internet access is due in the fall.
Jerome Jainga, director of the Suquamish Tribal Education Department said
the mobile lab visits separate housing areas, early learning centers and
public schools. "When the bus pulls in front of the kids' schools it makes
a big statement. The kids take pride knowing their bus is at the school,"
said Jainga. Two education specialists are there to assist students for
half-hour daily instruction. This summer about 120 pre-kindergarten through
12th grade students are using the computers. Middle and high school
students are expected to be added by the end of the year.
Student involvement and empowerment is critical to student success
maintained Howard Rainer. As the program administrator for the Native
American Educational Outreach Programs at Brigham Young University, he
wants adults to make sure students are included in prominent positions at
schools, churches, tribal councils and conferences. "They need to be seen
and heard more. We need to teach them how to be superstars and how to
communicate more effectively. We must spend more time allowing kids to ask
more questions and be in leadership positions," said Rainer. He encouraged
teachers to be more "silly, hip, with it and to have fun."
You can't motivate young people when you're serious and uptight," counseled
Rainer. He encouraged the audience to make a commitment to mentor one young
person this next year. "Our young people's lives are at stake," said