Courtesy Mahnomen Elementary Principal Jacob Melby
A third-grader in the Mahnomen Public School District shows dad her reading program.

10 Ways to Engage Rural Communities, Families and Schools in Education

Christina Rose

Schools thrive when everybody is working together and involved in the education process. Rural schools, particularly those on and near reservations, face unique challenges in building bridges to schools that serve tribal and border communities. In some of those schools, staff members are not aware or interested in understanding Native culture or the boarding school history that impacts the students they are teaching.

In a recent webinar, “Community Engagement in Turnaround Schools,” Mandy Smoker Broaddus, director of Indian education, Montana Office of Public Instruction, and Don Wetzel Jr, American Indian youth development coordinator, Montana Office of Public Instruction, joined Principal Adrian Watkins from the Marvell-Elaine High School in Arkansas, to talk about ways to break down barriers.

There are challenges in bringing school staff, community members and students together, but there can be successes, too, making schools a better place to educate future tribal leaders, family, and community members.

Here are 10 of the best suggestions from the Montana OPI to make rural schools a more welcome place for Native children.

Focus On the Whole Child: Children perform and behave better in school when their social, emotional, and physical needs are met.

Break Down the Walls Between Staff and Community: According to Don Wetzel, “Community engagement is new to some schools. Sometimes teachers resist going out into the community and prefer to stay within the school walls. We really focus on breaking those walls down. We had a lot of professional development and open discussions between teachers and parents. Some community members and staff still resisted the change process, and we continue to work with them.”

Don Wetzel Jr., American Indian youth development coordinator, Montana Office of Public Instruction, participated in a webinar to bring rural, tribal communities and schools together. (Montana High School Association)

Make Community Engagement a Priority: Establish an infrastructure dedicated to reaching the tribal communities. Send teachers to meet with family and tribal community members on a regular basis. Encourage the community to voice their opinion and respond to their concerns.


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