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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU receives $1.2 million grant to improve American Indian education

The New Mexico State University Department of Educational Management and Development received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to train individuals as school administrators in American Indian communities

artment will receive $411,922 during the first year of a three-year grant to improve the quality of American Indian education and opportunities for American Indian students.

The Model of American Indian School Administration (MAISA) project will give American Indian teachers the opportunity to receive a master's degree in educational administration to meet the needs of American Indian students.

"We hope that American Indian teachers and administrators will validate the culture and use native customs to build on schooling success," said Maria Luisa Gonzalez, department head for the Department of Educational Management and Development.

Gonzalez said that in 2003-04, there were only 19 American Indian principals of more than 650 total in New Mexico. She also said there is a 50-65 percent dropout rate among American Indian high school students.

"This automatically tells you that they don't learn the same way as other students," said Dana Christman, assistant professor of educational management and development.

Christman said many American Indian students begin school not having spoken English at home and are not offered classes to learn English as a second language. She also said that while the dominant education system is built upon competition among students, American Indian children are not generally competitive.

"The concept of competition as a way of learning in school is foreign to them," Christman said. "They would rather work with other students to make sure everyone understands."

Christman said American Indian students are taught to think before speaking, listen when others are talking, help others and never brag, which are not favored in a competitive education system. She said many teachers view American Indian students as slow learners because of these differences.

"American Indian children are in a world of education that has been set up without them in mind," Christman said.

With the help of MAISA, Christman said she hopes to double the number of American Indian administrators in New Mexico, which will provide role models for American Indian students, teachers and the community.

However, MAISA is not a typical master's program.

During the three-year program, participants will be able to study through distance education with the aid of interactive television and web-based courses. During the summer, they will spend time at NMSU for more intense course work.

They also will be required to establish relationships with the community and area tribes. In fact, each participant will have a tribal mentor to maintain ties to the tribal community to understand the academic, social, cultural and linguistic needs of American Indian students.

"If we don't collaborate with the community, tribe, school district and families, there is no foundation to help American Indian students succeed in school," Christman said.

Christman and Gonzalez are currently searching for participants from areas with significant American Indian populations in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Texas.

During the course of their work, participants also will have the opportunity to study indigenous students in Mexico and how they cope in the education system.

"They face a lot of the same issues as American Indian students," Christman said. "If we can learn from them and help each other, we have a greater chance at improving the quality of American Indian education in New Mexico."