MAILED: Aug. 30, 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 American Indian students the opportunity to earn a college degree and teaching licensure.
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 administering the grant. 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 School of Education 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 elementary and middle school (grades 1-9) teachers. They will enroll in a two-year program with the goal of earning a baccalaureate degree and WDPI 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 needed 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, director of the Menominee Culture Institute 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."
Caldwell, who from 1992 to 1997 was the principal of the Menominee Tribal School in Neopit, said that nearly one-half of the teachers at that school 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," he said, adding that the Menominee Tribal School was among the top 10 schools in the Bureau of Indian Affairs educational system.
"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."
The partnership has identified more than 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 the students 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 faculty.
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."
Students 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 partnership is committed to meeting a critical need for more American Indian teachers in the state of Wisconsin, Klun said. "Our hope is that these teachers will serve as positive role models and ultimately increase success within the classroom."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Aug. 30, 2000