The U.S. Department of Education is investing $5.3 million to help Native American youth prepare for post-secondary opportunities in higher education and in the job market.

Feds Award $5.3 Million for College, Career Readiness Projects

Tanya H. Lee

The U.S. Department of Education is investing $5.3 million to help Native American youth prepare for post-secondary opportunities in higher education and in the job market.

The grants, awarded under the first round of funding for the Native Youth Community Projects program, will support activities for thousands of students in more than 48 schools that serve 30 tribes in nine states.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says these grants are important tools that will help “turn the page in a broken history and invest in the success of the next generation of American Indian leaders.”

Renée Fredericks, a resident of the Alaska Native Village of Georgetown whose heritage is Yupik Eskimo and Athabascan, is the director of Youth Education and Employment Services for the Cook Inlet Tribal Council. AI/AN kids comprise about 18 percent of the 8,500 Anchorage Public School population, she says. The tribe has an excellent working relationship with the school system and provides some teachers to reduce classroom size and integrate Native cultures into the curriculum.

The $600,000 awarded to the Cook Inlet Tribal Council will support a demonstration project designed to help AI/AN students transition successfully from middle to high school, a move that is sometimes difficult, leading to increased dropout rates.

“We want them to have a firm foundation in the academic core curriculum and to feel welcome, which is something we work hard on,” she says. The afterschool program in each of the two schools selected to participate will be staffed by a certified teacher and a counselor who can serve as an advocate for students and their families and link them up with services provided by the tribe.

The program will bring in elders to work on traditional projects with the 11- to 13-year olds and will include field trips and activities that show them that they are already skilled in applying math and science concepts in their everyday lives.

In New Mexico, Anpa Duta Flying Earth, Lakota/Dakota/Ojibwe/Akime O’odham, is associate director of the Native American Community Academy Foundation. The foundation, which now has three schools in operation and is planning for two more, is working on the next step in indigenous education, developing new curriculum and teaching methods grounded in how Native communities say they want their kids educated—a holistic approach that integrates the values of personal wellness, cultural identity and academic preparation.

The NACA incubator school in Albuquerque has been in operation for 10 years and serves 390 students in grades 6-12. Schools in Shiprock and Navajo each have about 25 students.

The $478,000 grant awarded to the foundation is earmarked to support the expansion of this network of academically rigorous, culturally based schools in New Mexico, including helping Santa Clara Pueblo Day School transition from a Bureau of Indian Education school to a tribally-controlled grant school and establishing a school in Gallup.

In addition, grants of up to $600,000 each go to the Phoenix Indian Center in partnership with the Gila River Indian Community and Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community; the Karuk Tribe; the Tribal Education Departments National Assembly Co. (a BIE partnership with Northern Cheyenne School) working with the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Absentee Shawnee Tribe, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes; Haliwa-Saponi Indian Tribe Inc.; Lumbee Land Development; the BIE-operated Circle of Nations School (an inter-tribal off-reservation boarding school for grades 4-8, chartered under the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate); Ho-Chunk Community Development Corp. in partnership with the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska Education Dept.; the American Indian Resource Center Inc. in partnership with the Cherokee Nation Education Dept.; the Cherokee Nation’s Grand View School; and the Osage County Interlocal Cooperative in partnership with the Osage Nation and Otoe-Missouri Tribe.

The Native Youth Community Project program is a major component of President Barack Obama’s Generation Indigenous (Gen I) initiative launched in 2014. Other Gen I initiatives include a restructuring of the Bureau of Indian Education, a Cabinet Native Youth Listening Tour, which started in February, and the first White House Tribal Youth Gathering, held in July.

The president’s proposed 2016 budget includes $53 million for the Native Youth Community Projects program—a $50 million increase over this year’s budget. Education Secretary Arne Duncan says the department received more then 70 applications for this round of grants. Joy Silvern, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, notes that the House has proposed $20 million for the program. The president’s total request for 2016 Indian country funding is $20.8 billion, $1.5 billion more than this year. One billion dollars of that amount would be earmarked for education.

RELATED: White House Announces $3 Million in Grants for Native Youth

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