Minneapolis Public Schools received a $1.2 million grant for Indian education from the U.S. Department of Education in December. The money will go to prepare American Indian students in the class of 2014 for graduation. Every ninth grade American Indian student currently enrolled in Minneapolis schools will participate in the Personalized Resources and Education Pathways or PREP program. The program is designed to pair all ninth grade students with mentors who meet regularly with students to set goals along the path to graduation.
In order to graduate from high school, students in Minneapolis public schools are required to pass the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment II test. According to the Minnesota Department of Education, 37 percent of American Indian students in Grade 10 passed the MCA II in Reading, 18 percent of students in Grade 11 passed the MCA II test in math, and 19 percent of all American Indian students passed the test in science.
Noting the achievement gap for American Indian students exists statewide and nationwide, Danielle Grant, Director of Minneapolis Indian Education, says she believes low graduation rates stem from a combination of a factors, starting with students who find little value in education, coupled with lack of money and resources. Grant states that 89 percent of Minneapolis’s American Indian students qualify for free and reduced lunch, a federal standard often used to measure poverty. She states the average income for families living at Little Earth of United Tribes in Minneapolis is $8,000 a year.
Working from a memorandum of agreement between American Indian leaders and Minneapolis Public Schools, Grant says she has been able to take a public policy approach to working to improve graduation rates for American Indian students. Today, she says, her office focuses on academic rigor and cultural programming. For the past two years her office has worked with district teachers to help them “not teach culture, but teach culturally” to better respond to the learning styles of American Indian students in class.
Grant says that marks a big difference in the way Indian education has operated over the past thirty years. In the past, Grant says, Minneapolis Indian Education served students by pulling students out of class to participate in cultural activities.
The PREP program, says Grant, marks the second major change in policy. With the PREP program, Minneapolis Indian Education will formally partner with youth-serving organizations in Minneapolis, including the Division of Indian Work, Migizi Communications, Little Earth of United Tribes, and the Minneapolis American Indian Center. The idea is that community organizations can engage students in after-school activities or provide other kinds of supports they may not be getting at home. Organizations will employ mentors who will work directly with students, and parents, as students make progress toward graduation. Grant adds, “(PREP) mentors will also meet with parents at the start of the program to explain how it works.”
“Community was removed from the education of American Indian children two and three generations ago. with the boarding schools,” Grant said. “We want to bring that sense of community back.”
Minneapolis Indian Education PREP initiative is one of nine projects funded in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education. Over the next four years, Grant believes, Minneapolis public schools will learn more from students about what it will take to help each one graduate.