MAILED: Aug. 17, 2000
In an effort to boost the number of American Indian teachers, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and four partners a two-year $742,000 federal grant to provide baccalaureate degree and teaching credential opportunity to American Indian students.
The American Indian teacher-training grant, awarded through the Title IX Indian Education Professional Development Program, will be overseen by a partnership, with the College of Menominee Nation serving as the fiscal agent. Partners are UW-Eau Claire, the College of Menominee Nation, the Lac du Flambeau School District, the Wisconsin Indian Education Association and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
"This is a challenging proposal that will require an alternative approach," said Steve Kurth, associate dean of the College of Professional Studies at UW-Eau Claire.
"But it's a powerful opportunity. It really is an exciting concept that could serve as an example for future American Indian teacher development programs throughout the nation."
The grant, the first of its kind in Wisconsin, provides funding for 10 American Indians with associates degrees or a minimum of 60 undergraduate credits to be trained as middle childhood through early adolescence (grades 1-9) teachers. They will enroll in a two-year program with the goal of earning a baccalaureate degree and Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction licensure to teach.
The program also will provide training in language and culture instruction designed to equip American Indian participants with the knowledge and skills required to obtain state certification as an American Indian language teacher or an American Indian history and culture teacher.
"This is a very strong partnership," said Carol Klun, interim dean of the College of Professional Studies at UW-Eau Claire. The program, which began Aug. 1, is the first effort in Wisconsin to bring together the state education agency, a tribal college, a state university, an American Indian education group, and the American Indian community for a common cause that will benefit American Indian people.
It also is the first time the UW-Eau Claire School of Education has received a grant to provide teacher education to non-traditional Native Americans, Klun said.
There are more than 12,000 American Indian students attending public and tribal schools in Wisconsin, but only 142 American Indians licensed as classroom teachers, said Alan Caldwell, project director at the College of Menominee Nation. "This grant is a stepping stone toward increasing the number of American Indians ready to go into the classroom."
The partnership has identified more then 80 American Indian students who would be eligible to participate in this program.
"These are not traditional students many have families with children," Klun said, noting that some of the grant dollars will go toward child care.
The program design will take into account the fact that many of the prospective students are predominately place-bound. "The students won't need to uproot their families," Caldwell said, adding that they will take many of their classes at the College of Menominee Nation and Lac du Flambeau School District using videoconferencing and web-based learning provided by UW-Eau Claire.
"Our major goal is to prepare 10 American Indians to teach elementary education, but the other outcome is that this is a healthy exercise for us to create alternative program methods to meet the special needs of this indigenous group in the state," Klun said.
The Lac du Flambeau School District will recruit four tribal members to participate in the program. "This is a unique opportunity," said Richard Vought, district administrator at the Lac du Flambeau School District. "Our students need to have Indian role models as teachers to encourage them to pursue careers in the education field. It is essential that there be more Native American teachers throughout the country, and hopefully this program will prove to be an effective model that can be used nationally."
Student participants in the program will complete approximately 48 credit hours of coursework in their major and minor as well as courses required for professional licensure. In addition, students will complete a 17-credit student-teaching semester at a school with a majority American Indian population.
The WIEA will recruit practicing American Indian educators to serve as mentors, which is intended to help the American Indian students understand the challenges of the workplace and ease the transition from student to teacher. UW-Eau Claire will partner in the professional development of the mentors.
"The biggest challenge will be to develop a program to meet the needs of each student," Kurth said. "But we have the right people here to do it as well as the state's only American Indian Studies major and an exceptional School of Education."
It has been demonstrated that American Indian children do much better in their educational studies when they have teachers who are from their own community. They serve as role models, mentors and leaders," said Caldwell, who from 1992 to 1997 was the principal of the Menominee Tribal School in Neopit.
"Nearly one-half of our teachers were Native American. I strongly believe this played a role in the successes our students experienced in the classroom, on the athletic field and in the community," Caldwell said, adding that they were among the top ten schools in the Bureau of Indian Affairs educational system.
"Our goal is to increase the number of American Indian teachers teaching American Indian children. We hope these teachers will serve as positive role models and ultimately increase success within the classroom," Klun said.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Aug. 17, 2000