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National Service at Work: Helping Native Americans Students Achieve and Thrive

by Kate Enos

Native American students and educators face a unique set of circumstances surrounding tribal communities, including poverty, loss of culture and identity, and high suicide rates, all threatening students' academic success. In the 2009-2010 school year, only about 58 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students graduated high school.

Education is the key to driving Native American youth towards success. Understanding their unique needs, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) provides educational support to tribes through national service.

Through CNCS programs, AmeriCorps members, Senior Corps volunteers, and Learn and Serve participants are working to close the achievement gap between American Indian and Alaskan Native students and their counterparts, while also placing emphasis on helping preserve Native American cultures, languages, and identities through teachings.

The national service movement and its resulting positive effects can be seen across the nation. Here are a few highlights:

Rough Rock AmeriCorps Program
Navajo Nation – Chinle, AZ

Rough Rock Community School (RRCS) was founded in 1965 as an innovative education approach by establishing a school which would help the Navajo people maintain and preserve their culture and heritage, and obtain a quality education at the same time.

Since 1999, AmeriCorps members are recruited from the Navajo population to tutor and mentor students from kindergarten through 6th grade at the Rough Rock Community School. AmeriCorps members collaborate with school officials to address school safety issues by developing substance abuse and gang intervention activities.

Additionally, AmeriCorps members assist Tribal elders with home repairs, weatherization, and other support to help them remain in their homes and live independently. The AmeriCorps members also receive training during their service year to develop technical, professional and leadership skills.

Together, Tribal elders, teachers, parents, and AmeriCorps members work together to stress the importance of heritage, tradition, and culture and the need to challenge and encourage students to flourish academically in order to have a successful and productive life ahead.

Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council Foster Grandparents Program - Lac du Flambeau, WI

The Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council is a consortium of twelve federally recognized Indian tribes in Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.

For more than 34 years, Foster Grandparents through the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council help instill the importance of passing on traditional language and cultural teachings that help special needs children develop and maintain a sense of their cultural heritage and customs. This relationship provides emotional support and encouragement to children, enriching and stimulating the lives of the elder and Native American youth.

More than 70 Foster Grandparents serve on the tribal reservations including Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Forest County Potawatomi Community, Ho-Chunk Nation, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, Oneida Tribe of Indian of Wisconsin, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, Sokaogon Chippewa Community, Stockbridge-Munsee Community, and Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians. The Foster Grandparents can be found at tribal schools, child care facilities, Head Start programs, and youth centers.

Cherokee Nation Learn and Serve Program
Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma – Tahlequah, OK

Located in Oklahoma, the Cherokee people with a 200,000 member base is the second largest Indian tribe in the United States. The Cherokee Nation incorporates 1,600 students in service-learning projects focusing on the environment and tribal culture made possible through grants from Learn and Serve America. The Tsa la Gi Heritage Service Club Project focuses on environmental issues such as water quality and the propagation of endangered culturally relevant plants in schools throughout northeast Oklahoma.

Students conduct on-going water monitoring for the myriad of streams across the countryside of the Cherokee Nation which filter out into the Illinois River. The club has also established a community garden, reintroduced plants used as traditional tribal art such as basket making, and conducted special projects during service days throughout the year.

The program has achieved increased school engagement through participation in service-learning projects that include a curriculum of Cherokee history, language, and culture, where students learn firsthand of traditions that strengthen cultural identity.

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