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New Mexico State University

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NMSU completes $1.2 million program to increase Native American educational leaders

Twelve Native American teachers will complete master's degrees in educational administration at New Mexico State University this month, fulfilling a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The three-year grant, awarded in 2004, tasked the Department of Educational Management and Development in NMSU's College of Education with training individuals in Native American communities as school administrators in an effort to improve education and opportunities for American Indian students.

A graduation celebration is scheduled for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 23, in the NMSU Corbett Center West Ballroom.

Teachers who have been participating in the Model of American Indian School Administration (MAISA) project represented the Cheyenne River Sioux, the Navajo Nation, the San Ildefonso Pueblo and the Tesuque Pueblo.

"We hope that American Indian teachers and administrators will validate the culture and use native customs to build successful schooling opportunities for native students," said Maria Luisa Gonzalez, a Regents Professor in the Educational Management and Development Department.

Gonzalez, co-director of the Center for Border and Indigenous Educational Leadership (CeBIEL), which coordinates the MAISA project, said there are only 19 American Indian principals among more than 1,000 principals in New Mexico. She also said there are some areas where the dropout rate for American Indian high school students is as high as 50 to 65 percent.

"This is an indication that native students do not learn the same as other students," said Dana Christman, an associate professor of educational management and development.

Gonzalez and Christman believe one of the keys to making changes for native students is providing them with Native American role models.

"If we want to see any changes in American Indian education, we need to fill the schools with American Indian role models," Gonzalez said.

MAISA student Brian Dixon of the Navajo Nation said the program was ideal for him.

"I have always felt that there were too few American Indian school administrators to run our schools," Dixon said. "We need people who have a vested interest in our communities to run our schools."

MAISA students were able to study through distance education with the aid of interactive television and Web courses, which has allowed them to remain in their communities. During the summer, they spent time at NMSU for more intense course work.

"We promised the course work would be different and we have tried to honor that," Gonzalez said.

"It is a nontraditional program that I think is needed for our reservations because traditional programs have not worked thus far or at least not to an acceptable degree," Dixon said. "This program has met my expectations by being challenging and relevant to the practice of school administration."

The students returned June 8 from a trip to Mexico, where they studied how indigenous students cope in the education system and the role of indigenous languages in Mexico's schools that serve the Tarahumarans.

"We taught them the importance of crossing borders and wanted them to physically cross borders," Gonzalez said. "We thought the trip would be a culminating experience."

Dixon said he found it useful to see a real-life example of how native languages can be an education vehicle.

Since returning from Mexico, the students have been completing mini internships in southern New Mexico and west Texas schools that primarily serve culturally and linguistically distinct students.

Through the MAISA project model, the 12 graduates will receive continued professional development from NMSU's College of Education for one year after their graduation.