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Old 09-05-2005, 12:44 PM   #1
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Lightbulb Indian Education Coordinator Bridges Cultures

Indian Education Coordinator Bridges Cultures
by Andrea Cook, Staff Writer
Rapid City Journal - 5 Sept. 2005

PIERRE, SD - A stone pipe and a rawhide-wrapped arrow compete for space with file folders and paperwork on a desk in Keith Moore's office. South Dakota's new Indian education coordinator is waiting for a permanent office in the Department of Education.Moore, who started his new job July 1, will work with the state's Indian Education Advisory Council to strengthen communication between the state and the public, tribal, private and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools and colleges that educate American Indians. Mike Rounds created the 21-person council and Moore's position after the first Indian Education Summit in 2004. The council has representatives from each of the state's nine Indian tribes and from colleges and the various school systems that educate Indian children and adults.

A member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Moore, 38, was born on Rosebud Indian Reservation and attended schools in Todd and Lyman counties. His mother is Indian, and his father, who died while Moore was in college, was white. Moore was a principal with the Agar-Blunt-Onida School District when he accepted the coordinator's position. Having lived in two different cultures is an ideal background for South Dakota's first Indian education coordinator, Rick Melmer, state secretary of education, said. "He brings a nice balance to the table." Melmer said. "He's been part of the Native American system, and he's also been part of the systems that aren't focused on Native American issues," Melmer said. "We think that experience is going to help him."

Between 10 percent and 12 percent of South Dakota's children are Indian, according to Melmer. Last year, 10.8 percent, or 13,232 children, attending public school were Indian. Enrollment figures for the nonpublic schools serving Indian children were not available. South Dakota's Indian children merit representation in the Department of Education, Melmer said. Moore has "a tall order ahead of him," according to his boss. Moore says he is starting slowly to tackle the task. "I don't profess to have all the answers at 38 and being new in my office," he said. Since moving to Pierre, Moore has devoted most of his time to learning what Indian educators see as the future for Indian education and listening to their concerns about the children they work with. "It's great to get acquainted and hear what leaders say about what they have to deal with and what they're trying to develop," he said.

Indian educators list drop-out rates, irregular school attendance and low test scores among their concerns. And reservation schools have a difficult time hiring and keeping good teachers and administrators, Moore said. "The drop-out rate is huge," Moore said. According to the state's 2005 Report Card, only 66 percent of Indian students graduated from high school. Students' poor attendance and low test scores concern everyone, he said. "There's a huge achievement gap," Moore said. Poverty and suicide are also big concerns on the reservations, along with growing fears among tribal leaders about methamphetamine use and HIV-AIDS, Moore said. The federal No Child Left Behind education law has focused attention on the low academic achievement of Indian children, Melmer said. "We need to make a more concerted effort to see improvements," he said. "Achievement levels just aren't where they need to be." Melmer said that although schools operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs have their own system for measuring students' academic performance, they may eventually adopt South Dakota's testing system. If that happens, NCLB will have more of an impact on those schools, he said.

And in the future, tribal schools, which are not federally controlled, might look seriously at using the state's system, he said. The state would not have any control over BIA and tribal schools, but the schools would measure students' performance by the standards applied to public school students. That is why good relationships with Indian educators are important, he said. Melmer said his department started connecting with Indian and non-Indian teachers and administrators two years ago with its first Indian Education Summit. The annual summit brings together elementary, high school and college educators to talk about what's working and what's not working in Indian education. "The relationships have begun," Melmer said. "We needed someone to work on them full time."

Moore has had frequent conversations with Mike Stroup, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Stroup has been an educator for 24 years. For most of his career, he has worked in reservation schools or in schools near reservations. He is now an assistant principal and activities director at Riggs High School in Pierre. Stroup was a member of the late Gov. George Mickelson's reconciliation committee. "Our Indian children aren't performing like they should be in our schools," Stroup said. Testing required under No Child Left Behind is focusing attention on Indian children as a sub-group of South Dakota's students, he said. It doesn't matter where Indian children live, they still struggle in school, Stroup said. "If you look at test scores across the state, even in the non-Indian places like Pierre or Aberdeen or Sioux Falls or anyplace else — just as a sub-group we're not getting it. We're not reaching them," Stroup said. "Not that it's an easy chore to do," he said. "But somebody better sit up and pay attention and say we better make some adjustments somehow." Moore's first challenge is going to be bringing Indian educators together to create a united front willing to focus on a common goal, Stroup said. "It's extremely difficult because everyone wants to lump tribes or Indian people into one category, and they're not the same," Stroup said.

The needs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are not the same as ones on the Rosebud or the Lower Brule reservations. And urban Indians have totally different issues, he said. Deciding which issues to tackle will be difficult, Stroup said. "They all have so many — all the way from economic status to culture to language." The state's re-creation of the Indian education office is a positive step toward establishing a connection between schools and the state, Hank Taken Alive, dean of students and activities director for the McLaughlin School District, said. Taken Alive said Moore's appointment indicates that the state recognizes the unique challenges of Indian education. "We are a different culture, and we learn differently," he said. Indian children deal with poverty, low self-esteem and the need to find a balance between two worlds — the Lakota world and mainstream world, Taken Alive said. "We're looking for answers on how to educate our children," Taken Alive said. Moore is in a good position to help find solutions, he said.

(continued)
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Old 09-05-2005, 12:46 PM   #2
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Part 2

(continued)
When teachers talk about the challenges of teaching Indian children, they say that what's happening in a child's life at home impacts how he or she does in school, Moore said. The children in Indian Country who can wake up feeling 100 percent normal are in the minority, Moore said. Poverty prevents many Indian children from having a normal childhood, he said. It is rare for some Indian children to feel 100 percent OK and know that life is good with both parents heading off to work and the waters calm at home, Moore said. Moore said he often wonders what path he would have taken as a young man if his father, Jack Moore, hadn't been there to strip off the covers in the morning and get him up for school. Being poor, not having someone to put you to bed or get you up in the morning, and being Indian is a lot to cope with as well as school, he said. Moore said his own childhood helps him understand what's happening with Indian children. He was almost 9 when his parents moved their family off the reservation and into a predominately white community. A series of "family issues," including the death of a son in an alcohol-related accident, prompted his parents to sacrifice good jobs to find a better atmosphere for their six children, he said. "A lot of kids struggle with family life and social issues," Moore said. "I faced a lot of them. "If kids have a mom and dad there, they can get through a lot of things," he said. "There isn't a parent in the world who doesn't want the best for their child," Stroup said. "That doesn't mean those parents have all the skills to do that."

Moore is going to have to tell their story, Stroup said. "A lot of people in South Dakota have no clue about what happens south of the interstate or on our local reservations," Stroup said. "It's almost like a different world." There are people who "don't have a clue about poverty and the issues associated with it," he said. Moore said poverty had a significant impact on children's ability to learn. Research has demonstrated that children from poor backgrounds don't always get the mental stimulation they need in the first three years of their life, he said. The research emphasizes the importance of pre-school and early Head Start programs, especially for Indian children, he said. "We need to have better programs across the board for our kids," Moore said. "It's tough for a lot of those kids to climb over hurdles," Moore said. Indian children don't always have the self-confidence to face challenges such as school when it gets tough. "It's easier to go under and around. "We've got to equip those kids somehow to go over hurdles, because once you get through a couple of those (hurdles), you can go ‘OK — I can get through this'", he said.

The hopelessness felt by many Indian teens likely contributes to higher drop-out rates among Indian boys, Stroup said. As a high school principal, he saw young men who should be prepared to step out and be leaders and heads of households drop out of school during the final months of their senior year because they were intimidated or afraid to step into the real world, he said. "It's easer to just not graduate and fall back into the minutia of stuff, and then no one expects anything," Stroup said. "All of us were fragile when we were teenagers," Moore said. Teenagers, especially Indian teens, have trouble with self-confidence and self-esteem, he said. And for some teens, life and school becomes too difficult when they face social issues or family situations, and they don't see a way to "get off and out of the picture they're in," he said.

Those feelings may contribute to the frequency of suicide among young Indians, Moore said. "We need to give Native American kids a sense of hope and a belief that they can move on and further their education and live the comfortable life," Taken Alive said. To help children find their path to success, teachers need to know how to connect with Indian children and make them feel comfortable about school, Moore said. For Indian children, having their language and culture respected can help, he added. Moore said the state has services to assist schools with health programs, vocational education, curriculum and professional development for teachers.

Moore said the state was recently awarded a new federal Department of Education grant to partner with the Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium, or OSEC, that will help Indian students prepare and succeed in post-secondary education. The $1,153,930 Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR-UP, grant will be spread over six years. The state also awards as many as seven Hagen-Harvey Scholarships each year to Indian students pursuing a post-secondary education. The scholarship awards $6,000 to a student over four years of study. "We have people who want to see change and things get better," Moore said. "We need a good play book and a good game plan for all the students who come through our doors in the morning," Taken Alive said. "We need to find the best way to teach them."
(end)
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"Be good, be kind, help each other."
"Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

--Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)
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