A network building new opportunities for Native American schools is flourishing in New Mexico. The NACA-Inspired Schools Network (NISN) is comprised of six tribal-led and charter schools. They have developed a process for reinventing Native American community schools. Five schools have been added, and more are in the process.
Across the nation, Native students perform well below their white peers in reading and math on average, and are more likely to drop out of school. In response, native communities are reimagining how their schools should look, and what students should learn. Is school primarily a place to learn practical skills, or should there be more emphasis on native culture?
NISN believes that those questions should be answered by each community. They also advocate cultural education, as the pervasive lack of it in native schools they believe is in part a cause of poor student outcomes.
Many reasons exist why native students struggle, and these are acknowledged by school leaders. These include poverty, inadequate school funding, and difficulty recruiting qualified teachers. But they also believe that a culturally relevant curriculum is part of the bigger picture, necessitated by decades of colonial education which were designed to deprive young people of their traditional culture. In addressing this lack of native culture, they aim to improve student outcomes.
“The most positive thing we can do is help them explore their identity,” said Bronson Elliott, director of college engagement at the Native American Community Academy. “That’s important for any student, but especially for native students, who are kind of invisible in a lot of ways in the dominant culture.”