In June, 2012, the American Indian Urban Teacher Program (AIUTP) was awarded $50,000 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund a new project, the NW Tribal Teachers Pathway Project. The new project will create a teacher career pathway for four American Indian college graduates by providing tuition and living expenses as they enroll in Graduate School of Education (GSE) prerequisite courses. Additionally, the Gates funding will enable AIUTP to increase its half-time office support staff to a full-time position as student support specialist.
The AIUTP received $1.2 million from the U.S. Department of Indian Education in the fall of 2010 to recruit and license 18 American Indian and Alaskan Native teachers over four years as a professional development program at Portland State University. In its second year of operations, the program has now graduated one American Indian teacher in 2011, and three more in June 2012. Five new American Indian students have been admitted by the GSE to begin the Graduate Teacher Education Program (GTEP) in July of this year.
Dr. Maria Tenorio, project director, AIUTP, submitted an application to the Gates Foundation through its Pacific Northwest Initiative. She had noticed a gap as students applied to the teacher program, but learned they needed to take almost a year of prerequisite courses and tests. Out of school with a bachelor’s degree and no job, students expressed disappointment to learn that their dream of becoming a teacher seemed out of their reach.
The one-year funding received will create a teacher career pathway by providing tuition and living expenses for a minimum of four students. Additionally, the Gates funding will enable AIUTP to increase its half-time office support staff to a full-time student support specialist.
The AIUTP will also focus on culturally appropriate pedagogy by providing teaching materials and resources to public school districts and tribal charter schools throughout the northwest. The new funding spotlights a collaboration between the AIUTP and the Tribal Leadership Forum (TLF) within the Hatfield School of Government. The Tribal Leadership Forum has a 19-member board of tribal members, most of whom represent tribes and Indian organizations in the northwest, particularly Washington and Oregon. TLF produced the Great Tribal Leaders Curriculum for 6th-12th grade teachers, available in text and DVD. The curriculum is based on video interviews of tribal men and women leaders whose stories cover environmental science, tribal history, the role of women, and language in lessons that provide assessments that meet national standards. Dr. Tenorio wrote a number of the lesson plans.
Both the Tribal Leadership Forum and AIUTP recognized that while education is key to closing the achievement gap for American Indian students, success at a mainstream college must be predicated upon an educational model responsive to the diverse cultures, indigenous values, world views and needs of the community it will serve, a community-based model. Research informs us that the process of community-based education “begins with people and their immediate reality …(which) allows them to become meaningfully involved in shaping their own futures through schools and other agencies in their community,” (Corson, 1999). Community-based education is dependent on participation in which people renegotiate and reconstruct the ways in which a school relates to its community’s interests.
To achieve a community-based model of education in which administrators care not only about what happens to the student but also about how the indigenous community is transformed by their graduates, the AIUTP created an advisory council through consortium agreements between four tribal nations and indigenous community representatives. Their focus has been to collaborate with PSU to design the project and to recommend ways of improving the ability of the university to meet the needs of native students and communities.
The close partnerships developed with tribal communities actually comprises the community from which the graduating native teachers will gain support while in school, and will be—in full circle—the community they will help to strengthen and transform through their educational expertise and leadership. By relying upon what was learned from American Indian students who have dropped out of school and upon literature that describes major impediments to educational accessibility for first-generation college students, AITUP built a model where students experience not only peer support as an indigenous cohort, but are supported by their family and extended family, the indigenous community at PSU, and the Portland-Oregon area. Cultural and social activities are an ongoing part of their educational experience and traditional talking circles led by community elders are made available to students to address academic and socio-cultural stressors.
The primary goal of the AIUTP is to create a pipeline of native educators to teach in K-12 schools throughout the northwest and to support them in their pathway to become principals after three years of teaching.