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Grant Supports Partnership to Increase Indigenous Educators

January 3, 2018

A $1M federal Office of Indian Education grant supports a partnership between Blackfeet Community College (BCC), the Browning Public Schools and the University of Montana Western.

Over 40 Indigenous teacher candidates seeking a K8 (Kindergarten through eighth grade) or P3 (Preschool through third grade) degree and/or certification are currently enrolled as students at Montana Western.  Most are also taking courses at BCC and are teachers, paraprofessionals or long-term substitute teachers in and around Browning, Mont.

Patrick Armstrong

Multiple outcomes are targeted by the grant’s implementation, but the most important objective is to design and implement a sustainable program that will address the long-existing shortage of teachers serving Indigenous children on the Blackfeet Reservation.  A combination of high turnover, difficulty in recruitment and predominance of novice teachers contribute to the challenges of serving the needs of children.  Ms. Dee Hoyt is the Director of Education at Blackfeet Community College and the Principle Investigator of the grant. Dr. Jen Gilliard coordinates the P3 program which serves 12 candidates in their online courses.  Montana Western Education Professor Dr. Vikki Howard coordinates the K8 program which serves 31 candidates through a unique in-service model.

The dearth of Indigenous educators, those who are best able to connect to children through the lens of the Blackfeet world view, contributes to issues of identity, school drop-out rate, social and behavioral problems and long-term poverty.  Many of the Candidates are already teaching with a provisional license; others are full time educators serving as paraprofessionals, and the remainder are apprentices, teaching 5-10 hours per week as a teaching assistant.

Through this grant, Montana Western and BCC have recruited Blackfeet faculty to design and deliver a Blackfeet culturally infused K8-UMW curriculum, for Blackfeet teacher candidates who teach or will teach in the Browning schools.   The college curriculum matches pedagogy and curricula used in the Browning Schools, so candidates can move seamlessly from Montana Western classrooms to their classrooms.

One of the Montana Western faculty, Lona Running Wolf, brought two of her students to Montana Western’s campus on Friday, December 1, 2017 to speak to returning student teachers at Senior Seminar.  Lona Running Wolf was a 6th grade teacher, who was recently moved to “coach” at Napi Elementary School in Browning.  She holds a Master’s Degree in Literacy and is a Nationally Certified PAX trainer (a program designed to support children’s resiliency).   In her presentation, Lona described the differences between the Western (Euro) World View and the Blackfeet World View.  She explained that generations of trauma have significantly disrupted Blackfeet Ways, leading to the outcomes described above.   Through a Blackfeet-grounded education—one that also includes the foundation for success in the Western world, Ms. Running Wolf explained, it will be possible to rebuild ancient values, restore harmony and eventually erase the roots of poverty.

Patrick and Anna Armstrong

Mr. Patrick Armstrong, one of Lona’s students, described ways that he is applying both Indigenous and Western pedagogy with his own students.  He has been teaching for 8 years in Browning Public Schools (BPS) as a language educator with a Class 7 license (Native language).  He uses a traditional flute to gain his children’s attention, and tells traditional stories in the traditional way to help children value their Blackfeet identity.  His story about parenting and hunting, revealed traditional practices and values—while weaving an illustration of a basic teaching method: gradual release.

Ms. Anna Armstrong, also one of Lona’s students who teaches in BPS, just began teaching in August with a provisional license (Class 5), after working for many years in the private sector as a business woman.  She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Finance from MSU-N, and is now applying her considerable talent teaching young children.   While it is difficult to find time among the demands of the standard curriculum, Anna explained why it is so important to find ways to teach children to value who they are as a people, as well as the use of ceremonies, language, and stories that children can use to embrace their history and their future.

For more information about the program, please contact Professor Vikki Howard via email at [email protected].