Wednesday, June 27, 2018

School program aims to bridge gap for Native Americans

Leo Sportsman works as an education support person for
Native students in Oregon. (Photo provided by Sportsman)
A new program in Oregon aims to help students raised on rural Native American reservations close the achievement gap in school. "It’s called TAPP — Tribal Attendance Pilot Projects. The essence of the program puts tribal education coordinators into Oregon schools to help improve attendance rates for the state’s Native American and Alaskan Native students," Sheila Hagar reports for the Union-Bulletin in Walla Walla, Washington. 

Native American students have a higher absenteeism rate than average--33 percent compared to 19 percent in other student group--partly because of participation in tribal activities such as fishing, harvesting, or extended funeral processes. Having a tribal coordinator in place allows for greater communication between schools and tribal leaders, and helps students feel as though someone in the school administration understands their culture, Hagar reports.

Oregon's legislature budgeted $1.55 million for the initiative for 2017-2019; it's improved attendance rates in some school districts, but not in others, Hagar reports: "While 10 schools included in the pilot project succeeded at reducing chronic absenteeism between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, seven did not, according to attendance data from the Oregon Department of Education."

Leo Sportsman, a member of the Puyallup Tribe, is a vocal proponent of the program. He told Hagar that he had had a hard time in public school because of teachers who didn't understand his tribal culture. But when he began attending a boarding school for Native Americans in the eighth grade, his grades improved dramatically because he felt supported and understood. Sportsman, 25, now works with the TAPP program as an education support person for Native American students in the Athena-Weston School District. "When school ended earlier this month, Sportsman was among those cheering to hear that kids from the reservation reached a 92 percent attendance rate in the district this year, the same overall attendance rate for all Athena-Weston students," Hagar reports.

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