PSU American Indian Urban Teacher Program holds first Honoring Ceremony

This year’s graduates (left to right), Jonathan Belgarde (Chippewa), Carrie Green (Klamath Tribes), and Erica Spainhower (Cherokee Nation) joined alumnae Terri Reed (Chickasaw Nation) at the first AIUTP Honoring Ceremony.

An Honoring Ceremony was held Friday evening at the Native American Student and Community Center to recognize three graduates of the American Indian Urban Teacher Program (AIUTP).

The AIUTP is a new GSE program designed to increase the numbers of indigenous licensed teachers in Oregon’s schools. Currently the state has a very low percentage of Native American teachers, making them among the lowest represented racial groups in Oregon’s teacher population.

Friday’s intimate Native American ceremony for three graduates was in stark contrast to the pomp and ceremony of the GSE’s large academic hooding ceremony held earlier in the day. Dr. Richard Twiss, a member of the Lakota Nation, opened the Native American ceremony with a blessing, followed by an honor song delivered by Professor Cornel Pewewardy, faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Studies and a co-principal investigator for the AIUTP grant. As part of the ceremony, each graduate received a Pendleton ceremonial blanket from two members of their affiliated tribes or nations, some of whom came from as far away as North Dakota. A traditional salmon dinner and refreshments were served.

Terri Reed was the first graduate of the program, completing it in 2011. She has concluded her first year of teaching with an assignment in Dallas School District (Dallas, Oregon), working with children with special needs.

“I am inspired by the achievements and aspirations of these students, as well as by the strong, caring support offered by their communities,” says Associate Dean Liza Finkel who has been a key supporter of the project. “I look forward to hearing about their successes as teachers as they move forward with their careers.”

The AIUTP was developed through a grant in consortia with the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde, the Siletz, the Warm Springs and the Umatilla. Students in the graduate program are awarded tuition, fees and books, along with a living allowance that includes dependent care.

“While the vision of the AIUTP has been to increase the numbers of American Indian teachers in Oregon classrooms,” stated Project Director Maria Tenorio, “it has been important to address disparities in educational opportunities and outcomes of Oregon tribal members through a collaborative to support Native teacher candidates during their professional preparation and their first years of teaching.” Tenorio added that Native teacher candidates are encouraged to practice within a community-based educational context in order to extend their power, knowledge, and agency to promote and sustain reform initiatives within urban and rural indigenous communities.

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