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American Indian College Fund to Strengthen Native Teacher Pipeline

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Monday, October 11, 2021   

OMAHA, Neb. -- Tribal colleges and universities in Nebraska and across the nation are teaching the next generation of pre-K and elementary-school educators ways to incorporate native language and culture into their lesson plans, and a new grant secured by the American Indian College Fund will help that work expand.

Emily White Hat, vice president for programs at the Fund, said access to an educational pathway including traditional, indigenous knowledge, greatly improves education outcomes for students.

"It really supports their identity," White Hat explained. "It helps them be confident in who they are. It connects them to relatives in the community. It just provides this broader world view."

Nebraska Indian Community College and Little Priest Tribal College both offer early-childhood education courses, and will be eligible to get a slice of a recent $5.3 million grant from the Bezos Family Foundation over the next four years.

White Hat pointed out the program's goal is to revise curriculum to be more culturally relevant and support degree attainment for teachers. For example, students explore native housing structures in their Science, Technology, Engineering and Math classes, in a course now known as "wigwam-etry."

Educators also engage parents in their child's education, through activities such as family nights on campus, where parents also get a taste of the tribal college experience.

"The hope, too, is that we may bring parents who had not thought about college as an option into a place where they may feel like, 'Oh, I could do this. I could attend college, too,'" White Hat emphasized.

White Hat also sees the program as a way for families and entire communities to heal from the ongoing trauma caused when native children were removed from their homes for forced assimilation into white culture at boarding schools.

"Supporting the development of new teachers in the classrooms of our tribal communities is fundamental to the visibility of native people," White Hat contended. "We still exist, in this country and this world."


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