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Tribal officials detail truancy issues, stress successes in report to committee
Jun 18, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer
Educators and tribal officials told the Select Committee on Tribal Relations that problems with school attendance and graduation rates continue to trouble the Wind River Indian Reservation. They addressed the committee June 9 at Central Wyoming College.
Wyoming Department of Education consultant Keja Whiteman reported to the committee the ongoing partnership with the schools, parents and students and the Wyoming Tribal Children's TRIAD, which was organized to improve educational outcomes for children on and near the reservation. The program focuses on enrollment, attendance and achievement rates while including the help of local programs, tribal governments and community organizations to build a community-based initiative.
She said the group has been meeting with school districts since the partnership launched in 2009, and they have discussed ways to get more students to attend school.
"We're using all the community resources that we can," Whiteman said. "We have built a pretty good framework with the districts."
The organization also has invited other programs that deal with students although they may not be education-related groups. She said they have addressed incentives for students and parents and court proceeding.
"We have high-risk students out in the community who don't think about school," said Northern Arapaho tribal liaison Gary Collins. "We're trying to get that truancy level down."
He said many changes being implemented have shown improvement but have not been recognized. Collins invited director of development Rod Trahan of First People's Center for Education, an organization that serves teachers who educate American Indian students and provides a comprehensive mathematics and literacy approach to improve professional development.
The group has served schools in Alaska, Montana and Wyoming Indian Elementary, Wyoming Indian Middle School and St. Stephen's Indian School in Wyoming. Trahan said the group works to "improve teacher effectiveness" and it has seen "phenomenal" results.
Collins also told the committee that organizers have asked for an "Indian desk" within the Wyoming Department of Education so they are part of the discussions and plans set forth by the department.
Eastern Shoshone Education program director Harmony Spoonhunter reported on the entrepreneurship program students completed and their collaboration with CWC and the University of Wyoming to help students obtain degrees. She said many students have sought scholarships and have gone on to attend the Wind River Tribal College, CWC, UW and the Wind River Institute.
Northern Arapaho tribal education director Alfred Redman described the attendance and truancy problem on the reservation as an "illness" that was passed on to children from their parents.
"Kids don't graduate, they don't care about school," Redman said. "It's very hard to get the parents involved in the education system."
He said schools using outdated curriculums also could have a negative effect on students.
"I would like to see the Wind River schools here on the top," Redman said.
Eastern Shoshone Business Council chairman Darwin St. Clair Jr. suggested more funding go toward students who are showing success in their careers and educational endeavors.
"We, for one, are waiting for those young people to come through," St. Clair said. "So they can continue to grow in their capacity."
He said other schools in the state provide advanced learning opportunities, and college credit courses have proven able to help secure a better future for students. He also said that schools on the reservation address the importance of hiring American Indian teachers. While the population of students at reservation schools is mostly American Indian, he said students could "look up to" and make a unique connection with American Indian teachers.
"I think it's vital, and they don't have to be Eastern Shoshone or Northern Arapaho," he said.
Select Committee on Tribal Relations chairman Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, encouraged the tribes to meet with the incoming CWC president and discuss the possibility of the Intertribal Education and Community Center being used to provide a service to reservation students rather than serving as a facility.
Whiteman, also the lead organizer of the conference since 2010, told the committee the 2014 Native American Conference was scheduled for Aug. 12 to Aug. 13 at CWC with a "fantastic agenda lined up." The main focus would continue to be on parents and students, and she encouraged their participation.
The department also sent an invitation to President Barack Obama to attend the conference this year, but Whiteman said she anticipated he would not attend.
Last year, U.S. Secretary of Interior Sandy Jewell and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan were keynote speakers at a public forum for the conference.
Obama had announced he would visit an American Indian reservation this year and visited the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota on Friday. It was his first visit as president to an Indian reservation. In 2008, he campaigned in Crow Agency, Mont.