District 25 schools working 'really hard' on support for American Indian students

Jun 7, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Every year, the state's Select Committee on Tribal Relations asks Fremont County administrators to report on what they're doing to improve the graduation and attendance rates for American Indian students, as well as all students in the district.

The committee met May 22 in Lander and heard from all Fremont County superintendents, including from St. Stephen's Indian School.

Support

Riverton superintendent Terry Snyder said that, as administrators look at focusing on attendance, they target the relationship they have with native parents.

The effort began by employing more American Indian staff members, Snyder said.

Two tutors in particular, who are also American Indian, help students keep track of their grades and maintain their path to graduation.

"We're providing a supportive environment," Snyder said. "We worked really hard to make that happen."

They weren't consistent with that support in previous years, he said, but they gradually remodeled their system since he started working for the district in 2011.

In his first year as superintendent it wasn't unusual to have 35 expulsions in a school year, he said. This year, the district recorded four expulsions, Snyder said.

"We had to have higher expectations for students," he said.

District 25 pursued a different attendance system, a model also used in other schools in Wyoming, which identified where students struggled in academics.

The model also revised the enrollment requirements to ensure students attended school regularly.

Restorative justice

The district also began using the restorative justice program which brings students or teachers together in a meeting to discuss a specific incident or problem. The program encourages participants to think about the effects of their actions, understand those impacts, and take responsibility. Then they have the chance to repair damaged relationships as an alternative to detention or expulsion.

Restorative justice in particular has been useful among native students, Snyder said.

"(It) has made all students more sensitive to culture and to each other," he said.

The controlled discussions also allow those involved to develop a plan for next steps after an incident. Nearly 10 districts have come to FCSD 25 to observe the program in order to help implement it in their own schools, Snyder said.

Frontier

He also highlighted the success of Frontier Academy, the district's alternative school, which has helped several American Indian students continue their education.

"We want these kids to graduate," he said. "We have to have alternatives for kids that just don't fit into the norm."

He asked committee members to recognize the need for alternative schools and realize that the traditional way of obtaining an education is not appropriate for everybody. At the most recent legislative session, the Wyoming Legislature ordered a freeze on new alternative schools.

"Staff (members) have been really involved with these students," Snyder said. "I believe it's going to make a difference for our kids."

Snyder said Frontier graduated 17 students this year, and a recent survey given to those students provided the district with "unbelievable" feedback.

According to survey results, 100 percent of the students believed they were supported and respected and felt they would be successful, he explained.

"They were really good results... so positive," he said. "We can't quit on kids."

FCSD 25 didn't have enough options for its students, he noted, which is why they created the alternative school.

"We still have work to do," he said.