CIBOLA COUNTY - The United States Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, visited Laguna Elementary School Wednesday afternoon as part of the newly formed American Indian Education Study Group’s (AIESG) efforts to recognize obstacles specific to Native American schools.
Jewell’s visit was the result of the Study Group’s attempt to gather information and listen to area concerns to find ways to improve American Indian education. The group is interested in learning how Tribal schools, including those funded by the Bureau of Indian Education, respond to critical challenges in their communities. The Native youth are a priority on every reservation; the AIESG feels that their education is vital to the well-being of Indian communities. Of Secretary Jewell’s visit Laguna Elementary School Principal Kay Morris said, “I think that Secretary Jewell’s visit was an eye-opener in regards to how reservation schools work. It give her a ground base to learn what’s going on, how instruction is going, whether there is academic progress, and the challenges educators and administration are facing. She’s getting first hand information. The purpose of the visit is to learn about the barriers that prevent effective instruction in schools such as ours, to provide her with additional information, and let her know how concerns can be addressed. In essence, the goal of her visit is to listen and take the concerns to a higher level and hopefully next year we can have some kind of solutions to the different concerns that have been shared with her by different schools.”
The obstacles some Native American schools face are the need for retention and recruitment of effective teachers, the creation of a relevant curriculum, and the application of appropriate pedagogical practices among other site-specific issues. Secretary Jewell noted that Native American schools are often located in rural remote areas. The obstacles faced at Laguna Elementary were explained by Principal Morris, “We do have facility issues. Our school is more than 50 years old. We highlighted what’s going on in our classrooms in terms of facility concerns; and our security concerns, because we have an open campus. Academics-we need to make sure a lot of our faculty is highly qualified. It’s extremely difficult to get qualified staff among other issues. We did highlight the fact that teachers are doing a phenomenal job and our students are making increased academic gains.”
Laguna Governor Richard Luarkie and 1st Lt Governor Harry Antonio attended the day’s roundtable sessions with Secretary Jewell and other education officials in accordance with AIESG’s goal to meet with Tribal leaders and principals from other tribal schools. Part of the AIESG’s goals is to encourage people to make recommendations for improvements to Native American education. The group will be tracking the effect of reforms and Common Core curriculum changes in Native American schools.
In September Jewell and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan convened the American Indian Education Study Group. The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Kevin Washburn, oversees the group. The AIESG’s members include: Dr. Monty Roessel, the Acting Director of the BIE; Don Yu, a Special Advisor to Secretary Duncan; Dr. Kenneth Wong Annenberg, Professor of Education Policy and Education Department Chair at Brown University; Marilee Fitzgerald, the Director of the U.S. Department of Defense Educational Activity; and Charlie Rose, former General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Education.
Since then Secretary Jewell has visited other schools across the U.S. The group is part of President Obama’s initiative to support Tribal self-determination, and will focus on how to facilitate Tribal sovereignty in American Indian Education and how to improve educational outcomes for students attending BIE-funded schools.
The schools in Cibola County that stand to benefit from the AIESG’s progress are Casa Blanca Community School, Laguna Elementary School, Sky City Community School, To’Hajiilee Community School, To’Hajiilee Day School, and Pine Hill Schools.
The Indian Education Study Group encourages the community to reflect on the educational challenges faced by area students and participate in discussions.