Teach For America’s Native Alliance Initiative Strives to Increase the Number of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Teachers Nationwide
Published March 4, 2016
NEW YORK— Since its founding, Teach For America has recruited and trained more than 50,000 individuals to teach in underserved public schools and become lifelong advocates for students and their families and communities. Teach For America launched its Native Alliance Initiative(NAI) in 2009 to deepen its partnerships with Native communities. As Teach For America welcomed its 25th corps into the country’s highest-need classrooms this school year, it also ushered in 790 teachers working across six states with significant Native student populations—communities that have been severely impacted by educational inequity. Today, the NAI is working with Native students and leaders in Hawai‘i, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Washington.
“Native communities are resilient in the face of historical and present-day injustice, buoyed by strong, vibrant and diverse cultures that deserve to be celebrated,” said Robert Cook, a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe and senior managing director of the initiative. “Students in Native communities deserve an education to match that spirit and dedicated teachers who help them achieve in and out of the classroom. Teach For America is proud to partner with communities, organizations, and schools to help increase the number of Native teachers leading classrooms and ensure all Native students receive an excellent education.”
Native Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, and American Indian students face some startling educational realities. Only 49 percent of Native students graduate from high school, compared to the national average of 86 percent. On average, 29 percent of all American students earn a college degree, while just 11 percent of Native students do the same. The Native Alliance Initiative works hand-in-hand with tribes and Native communities to expand educational opportunities for their students. The initiative was created to support and provide corps members with more strategies for incorporating tribal and community culture into the classroom, recruit more Native leaders to the teaching profession, and develop a critical pipeline of leaders committed to advocating for Native communities and children.
Since its inception, the Native Alliance Initiative has increased the number of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian individuals in its teaching corps and alumni base from 40 to nearly 300, impacting nearly 38,000 students, representing more than 100 Federally Recognized Tribes. Teach For America knows great teachers come from all backgrounds and that committed, talented individuals—whether they come from privilege or not, can be powerful classroom leaders. Teach For America also believes thatteachers who share the background of their students can have a profound additional impact.
Teachers like, Jaimie Gua-Rohrer are leading classrooms, cultivating student success, and serving as role models for kids. Jaimie decided to join Teach For America in 2012 because Teach For America’s mission to build the movement to eliminate educational inequity and, specifically, its commitment to advocating for Native education equity through the Native Alliance Initiative resonated with her.
“Before becoming a teacher, I vowed to never make my students feel the way I felt in my high school English class, and that is why I’m incredibly transparent with them,” said Jaimie Gua-Rohrer, a 2012 Teach for America alum and a proud member of the Colville Confederated Tribes of Washington State. “I tell my students Mitakuye Oyasin (“we are all related”) because our experiences and our stories are similar, and I can serve as a model of what is possible for them. I tell my students how difficult reading was for me because I’m a second-generation reader. I tell my students that they don’t have to choose between education and culture, but that they can access both simultaneously; and they are richer and stronger because of that. My students are survivors – they are funny, energetic, brave, and resilient, and I am committed to ensuring they receive an excellent education.”
Jaimie currently lives on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation where she still teaches at her placement site Tasunke Witko Owayawa (Crazy Horse School). Jaimie is a Sue Lehman Excellence in Teaching Award Semi-Finalist, has proudly served on the Native Alliance Initiative (NAI) Council for three years, and recently accepted a position on the first ever Collective’s National Advisory Board for Teach For America. In the classroom, Jaimie focuses on student empowerment and advocacy and facilitated a Design for Change project with high school students, resulting in their project being chosen as the 2013 United States national representatives to the Be the Change World Conference in Ahmedabad, India.
Teach For America’s Native Alliance Initiative is working to create more outstanding examples of culturally responsive teaching and training for teachers and has also hosted summits to provide opportunities to discuss the challenges, progress, and commitment in ensuring all Native students receive an excellent education and are achieving at the highest levels.
Teach For America marked its first quarter-century this school year with a milestone: The organization’s community topped 50,000. This network of leaders includes more than 8,600 current corps members teaching across 52 urban and rural regions and more than 42,000 alumni working from an array of sectors to ensure that all children have an equal chance in life. Of Teach For America alumni, 84 percent report working in education or with low-income communities.
Teach For America is poised to enter its second quarter-century of impact with an evolving, increasingly localized program and a diverse community of leaders committed to doing everything they can to expand opportunities for students and address the systemic barriers to educational equity.
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