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Posted January 9, 2012

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Indian Education Makes Impact on 6,000 Students

APS department is attracting international attention for its efforts

Indian Education Makes Impact on 6,000 Students

Albuquerque students added their voices to the discussion of urban Native American education.

Even Daisy Thompson is “amazed” at the statistics:  More Native American students attend public schools than reservation schools.

Thompson directs the Albuquerque Public Schools Indian Education Department that serves more than 6,000 students and their families. Her department’s job includes not only educating students, but also counseling, advocating and finding resources for them. It means bringing parents up to speed, too.

“We want students to succeed, and parents are sometimes unable to help,” Thompson said.

Bringing Native students into an urban setting presents its own set of challenges as school size and the pace of life take some getting used to. For example, many students ride the bus 45 minutes or more each way from rural Tohajillee to attend classes at West Mesa, Jimmy Carter and Painted Sky. The size of that population makes it feasible to provide after-school programs where students can get tutoring and help with homework. It eases the feeling of being overwhelmed.

“Students are sometimes hesitant to ask for help if they don’t know the teachers well,” Thompson said, but resource teachers are there to help.

By the numbers, Native students in APS represent 117 of the 560 tribes in the U.S. About half are Navajo and their language is taught at five APS high schools from a curriculum created by the Navajo Nation and approved by the state. APS graduates about 400 Native students annually, though some take five years to get there.

The department’s efforts are gaining international attention. The 42nd annual National Indian Education Association convention came to Albuquerque in October, and APS Indian Education was at the forefront, making presentations before 3,000 attendees from around the world. Tribal educators from as far away as Australia are looking at Indian Education’s comprehensive 60-page, six-year plan for implementing culturally-relevant education as a blueprint for reaching Indian students.

What they’ve seen is how Thompson, instructional manager Jay Leonard and their staff mentor families, show them where to find educational and other resources, attend Student Assistance Team meetings at schools to support their students, advocate for those with special needs and connect families with schools. They focus on reaching goals and graduation. Their parent advisory committee numbers more than 100.

On a tight budget, Indian Education also finds a way to help students with summer school and online class tuition, provide eyeglasses and cover their SAT and lab fees. They take an annual bus trip to visit Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo., where Native students can attend tuition-free.

“The work we’re doing is ahead of the curve,” teacher mentor Mary Abeita said. “Now other educators want to use APS as a model.”

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