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Closing the Graduation Gap for MN's Native American Students

PHOTO: The high school graduation gap for Minnesota's Native American students is getting smaller, but there is still a great divide between their community and other students. Photo credit: Division of Indian Work.
PHOTO: The high school graduation gap for Minnesota's Native American students is getting smaller, but there is still a great divide between their community and other students. Photo credit: Division of Indian Work.
December 30, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS - Minnesota has the lowest on-time graduation rate in the country for Native American students, and experts say a key to improvement are teachers and staff who understand the culture.

Louise Matson, executive director of the Division of Indian Work, says the institution of education hasn't been particularly friendly for Native Americans, but one effort finding success is Anishinabe Academy. The magnet school in Minneapolis focuses on high academic achievement through culturally-based education.

"Indian people love learning," says Matson. "We were the first scientists here. We are capable and smart, and so we as a community we are supporting our goal to drastically improve achievement for American Indian students. I think we've got some really great programs at Anishinabe Academy."

While the achievement gap did shrink in Minnesota last year, less than half of Native American students graduated high school on time, compared to 85 percent of white students.

The education gap is tied to other indicators such as poverty, with about 98 percent of students at Anishinabe eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Matson notes the overwhelming need around hunger in the community will be a focus in the new year on the Division of Indian Work's food shelf.

"It's been one of the programs really impacted by the recession," says Matson. "It's still slowly recovering, but donations are down for food shelves. What I've heard is people who used to donate to food shelves are now using food shelves."

The Division of Indian Work is the Twin Cities' oldest social and human services organization serving American Indians.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN