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Brainerd School Board: District pushes for better American Indian education

Charles Black Lance (left), the chair for the American Indian Parents Advisory Committee, and Ashley Ingebrigtson, the district's multicultural liaison, discuss the Native American Education Program 2017-18 with the Brainerd School Board. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch

The Brainerd School District is moving forward with the Native American Education Program for 2017-18, embarking on an initiative to better meet the needs of American Indian students in area schools.

The school board voted unanimously to approve a resolution of agreement with the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee—a motion in conjunction with the committee, which determined, via vote Feb. 1, the district met stipulated goals. The committee was formed roughly two years ago to address the educational needs of American Indian students in the district.

Charles Black Lance, chair of the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee, said the district met the committee's expectations and performed well with its American Indian students—though, he added, going forward the district should "tap the gas pedal a little" and increase its investment and participation in the program.

"This really represents our committee growing out the infancy stage where we've been the last two years and really grow into the adolescent phase," Black Lance said. "A lot of that means growing our committee a little bit larger—whether that's more parents or guardians being part of the group—but also a little bit more commitment from you all, the school district."

In a series of documents, the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee outlined a few areas they're looking for the district to improve upon in the next two years. Black Lance said the district is invited to evaluate and comment on the stipulated goals. The district will be assessed on these goals by the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee next year:

• To have all American Indian children ready for school. In fall 2017 and spring 2018, the district offered American Indian students $100 scholarships to encourage enrollment in early childhood family education. One scholarship was used in 2017, so far five have signed up in 2018.

• To have all American Indian third-graders achieve grade-level literacy. The district has a family reading night event (kindergarten through fourth grade) slated for Feb. 20. Students are able to take books home after the event. Book have been purchased for this event.

• To have all achievement gaps closed for American Indian students. The district has taken steps to meet this goal by the creation of the multicultural student support liaison position last year, the document states. Also on the docket is an Ojibwe Language class. The district contracted instructor John Benjamin to teach a two-hour class for students and parents of all ages. Between classes on Oct. 19 and Jan. 25, 17 people attended. A third class is slated for March 22. Other future events include a powwow event April 19 at the Central Lakes College gymnasium, an indigenous foods presentation for May or April, family math game night for kindergartners through fourth-graders in March and a May field trip through the Bdote area—or where the Haha Tanka and Wakpa Tanka (Mississippi and Minnesota rivers in English) meet, according to the Bdote Memory Map site.

• To have all American Indian students attain career and college readiness. On Oct. 12, 24 high school students attended a meeting with officials of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Going forward, American Indian students have the opportunity to tour two colleges outside of the Brainerd lakes area—St. Cloud State University on March 19 and Bemidji State University with a tentative time set for April.

• To have all American Indian students graduate from high school. Currently, Brainerd High School has a Native American Student representative, Lea Anderson, who is available to students as an ally, serving to build relationships and keep communications open. Going forward, Anton Treuer is scheduled to visit Brainerd High School to discuss local American Indian culture and history in March.

In a series of documents and in person, Black Lance and Ashley Ingebrigtson, the district's multicultural support liaison, outlined four recommendations the district may pursue:

• Brainerd Public Schools would host events and guests that celebrate American Indian cultures—an effort to create pride, a sense of belonging and cultural representations for American Indian students, as well as educating the larger student body.

• The district would assist in creating a staffing model for American Indian education in which both an American Indian education program coordinator and American Indian liaison would work as a team to meet the needs of American Indian students. Black Lance said this request arose out of consistent confusion with the role and responsibilities of Ingebrigtson's liaison position—adding it would be best, with the limited state and federal dollars available, for the district to create and fund the coordinator position with district monies.

• District schools would provide more cultural training opportunities for teachers, counselors and administrators to equip staff with the necessary cultural lens needed to best serve American Indian students.

• The Brainerd school district would create more support for academically strong American Indian students by providing differentiated curriculum for students that perform above their grade level. Black Lance noted there are only two American Indian students in the Gifted and Talented program—a number that falls well below his expectations.