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MN Opens Nation's First Freedom School for American Indians

PHOTO: Program director Nation Wright leads a traditional Native American round dance with students at Minnesota's American Indian Freedom Schools program, the first of its kind among the more than 200 Freedom Schools sites across the United States. Photo courtesy of CDF-Minnesota.
PHOTO: Program director Nation Wright leads a traditional Native American round dance with students at Minnesota's American Indian Freedom Schools program, the first of its kind among the more than 200 Freedom Schools sites across the United States. Photo courtesy of CDF-Minnesota.
June 19, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. - With a goal of curbing summer learning loss and closing the achievement gap, the nation's first-ever Freedom Schools program for the American Indian community has opened in Minnesota.

The six-week summer enrichment offering is provided by Children's Defense Fund-Minnesota. Its program director, Nation Wright, said this effort is vital since these children often face a much tougher road to success.

"Although graduation rates have been steadily increasing the last few years, they're still much lower than those of white students and even other minority groups," he said. "So a program like this can provide a well-balanced, enriching curriculum."

In Minnesota last year, more than 81 percent of public high school students graduated on time, but the rate was only 51 percent for the state's American Indian students.

With literacy key to academic success, Wright said, the curriculum the Freedom Schools program has developed will have children reading books about and authored by Native Americans. He noted that the strong focus on culture will extend to many other of their daily activities.

"So lacrosse. They'll make medicine bags. We're having Ojibwe and Dakota language. We'll smudge in the mornings with sage," he said. "I'm a strong believer that education is best when you're in a culturally comfortable setting, and that's what we try to provide, is a setting that will set them up for success."

Around 60 children are enrolled at the two sites where this first-of-its-kind program is being offered and operated in partnership with the Indian Education Department of Minneapolis Public Schools. These kids are among a total of 1,200 school-age children from high-poverty areas across the Twin Cities who are enrolled in this summer's Freedom Schools programs.

Information on Freedom Schools is online at cdf.mn.org. Data on Minnesota graduation rates is at education.state.mn.us.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN