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Reporters' Notebook:
Native Americans Struggle,
Build Pride

For the second installment in the Education World series Lessons from Our Nation's Schools, editors Diane Weaver Dunne and Ellen R. Delisio traveled to rural Maine to visit two Native American reservation schools. They learned about Native American culture, learning styles, and the people who teach and learn at these schools. Included: Descriptions of how the relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. government evolved from enmity to separation.

Last spring, Education World editors Diane Weaver Dunne and Ellen R. Delisio visited two Native American reservation schools in northern Maine: Indian Island School on the Penobscot reservation north of Bangor and Beatrice Rafferty School on the Passamaquoddy reservation in Perry. Learn more about their visit in our five-part series. The five articles are detailed below. Click on any headline for a complete report.

Teachers on Mission to Save Heritage
Native American students have responded eagerly to the introduction of native studies to the curriculums at Indian Island and Beatrice Rafferty schools. Tribal leaders are hopeful that the resurgence of native studies will help this generation recapture its now struggling culture.

Reservation Schools Preserve Cultures, Boost Academics
Infused with state and federal money but facing more requirements and students with challenges, staff at two Native American schools talked with Education World about meeting their two missions: passing on Native American culture and boosting academics.

Native American Schools Ponder, Assail Dropout Rates
With the high school dropout rate for Native Americans among the highest in the country, reservation and school officials are searching for new ways to keep teens in school. News editor Ellen Delisio explores programs designed to reduce the dropout rate of Native Americans.

Principal Primes Kids to Succeed
A Texas transplant, principal Donald W. Salm told Education World he is impressed with the caring staff and community members of Beatrice Rafferty School. Salm talks with Education World editor Ellen R. Delisio about life on the reservation and his goals for the school's students.

Indian Island Principal Reflects On Native Schools' Goals, Challenges
Education World news editor Diane Weaver Dunne talks with Linda McLeod, principal of Indian Island School. McLeod reflects on the challenges reservation educators must overcome, and how those challenges are often similar to those at other rural public schools.

Facts and Figures

The two schools that Education World visited -- Indian Island School and Beatrice Rafferty School -- receive funding from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in addition to other federal money such as Title I; they also receive funding from the state of Maine. The Maine schools are among 187 schools located on 63 Indian reservations in 23 U.S. states.

The Native Americans in northern Maine are among an estimated 2.1 million Native Americans in the U.S., according to the 1990 Census. Within the native population, there are 250 living languages and dialects spoken by about 282,000 individuals, which is about one-eighth of the entire native population.

The two reservations Education World visited reflect the national economic profile of Native Americans, according to the 1990 census data. Native Americans generally are poor: about one-third live in poverty compared with 13 percent of the U.S. population. Native Americans' per capita income is $8,232 compared with the average U.S. per capita income of $14,420. Their unemployment rate of 14.4 percent is significantly higher than the national rate of 6.3 percent.

Native Americans also have a lower overall high school graduation rate: about 65 percent earn a high school diploma compared with 75.2 percent of the U.S. population. Their college graduation rate is also much lower, with 9.3 percent earning a college degree compared with the national average of 20.3 percent.

Educating our nation's Native American children has changed dramatically over the past 400 years. When indigenous Americans were in charge of teaching their children, they did so by playing games, telling stories, practicing hunting, as well as teaching other skills the children would need to survive. That would change as Europeans came to control this continent -- and eventually the Native American culture. The traditional European-style education emphasized structured classroom learning and rote memorization -- a stark contrast from the native style of hands-on learning, which took place mostly outdoors.

More than 200 years ago, the U.S. government viewed most Native Americans as enemies, and its policy was to remove tribes from their lands, often by force. Later, the government's role shifted to assimilating Native Americans into mainstream American society as it became trustee for their tribal lands and monies. Part of the method to assimilate Indians was to remove native children from their parents' homes and board them at schools where they were forbidden to speak their native language.

During the 1900s, the push to absorb Native Americans into American society gradually changed. In 1975, the U.S. government permitted Native Americans to become autonomous. According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribes then were allowed to preserve their culture and reclaim their future. Since that time there has been a resurgence of interest in native studies at reservation schools, while at the same time, they prepare students academically for mainstream public and private high schools.