In 1997, the graduation rate for Native American students was 37 percent in the Nebo School District; this year, the district graduated 100 percent of its Native seniors, with 23 of the 26 starting college in the fall, reports the Daily Herald out of Utah.
It was in 1997 that Eileen Quintana, manager for the Nebo School District’s Title VII program in Utah County, Utah, approached the board of education and brought the graduation rates to their attention.
“If this were the case for white children, heads would be rolling,” she remembers saying, reported the Herald. “There would be an outrage.”
Courtesy Nebo School District
Eileen Quintana, manager for the Nebo School District’s Title VII program.
Though she shocked some, the district gave her program more resources, like a classroom, computers, and supplies.
According to the White House’s 2014 Native Youth Report, the national graduation rate for American Indian/Alaska Native students is 67 percent, the lowest of any racial or ethnic group. Graduates from Bureau of Indian Education schools fare even worse, with a graduation rate of just 53 percent, compared to a national average of 80 percent.
Quintana and Brenda Beyal, a teacher in the program, attribute their program’s success to collaboration. While many Title VII programs try to survive on the $200 they get every year per student from the federal government, Nebo’s program looks for supplemental grants, and support from family and employees.
“Many of our Title VII programs throughout the state function from a desk out of a cubbyhole,” Quintana told the Herald. “You have to have a classroom, you have to have computers… you have to have teachers and tutors… If your school administration is not going to that point of supplying you and helping you secure these fundamental necessities of education, you can’t make an impact.”
Aside from funding difficulties, Native students spend their entire educational careers battling low expectations and assumptions.
“People think Native Americans don’t have to work hard because they get into college anyway,” Beyal said. “That’s not true.”
Aside from being collaborative, the program encourages students to incorporate their culture into assignments.
“Everything that we learn is from [the] white perspective,” Quintana told the Herald. “Sometimes all it takes is an adaptation, indigenise the curriculum a little bit. That is what we have done many times and it has worked.”