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Lander Educators First to Complete UW Course on Teaching Native American Children

August 5, 2009

Two Lander educators are the first graduates of the new University of Wyoming graduate program for teachers of American Indian children.

Marty Conrad and Christine Rogers, both instructional facilitators for Fremont County School District 1, recently completed the primarily distance-delivered program.

UW's certificate program is the first comprehensive teaching opportunity for individuals interested in meeting the unique learning needs of American Indian children.

Consisting of five graduate courses, the program's target audience is certified teachers who lack the specialized preparation to reach and teach American Indian children.

A member of the Choctaw/Creek Tribe of Oklahoma, Conrad serves as an instructional facilitator at three schools in Fremont County School District 1 -- Lander Valley High School (LVHS), Pathfinder High School and Starrett Junior High School.

Conrad has decades of classroom experience -- as a teacher and a Native American student, but he describes many ways in which his understanding was expanded in the certificate courses.

"I have had to learn as I went along," he says. "I always thought that something needed to be developed in the curriculum area, on how to teach Native American students."

Some of that curriculum support includes access to resources that accurately incorporate the Native American perspective. Participation in the certificate program not only reinforced the importance of inclusion, but also provided Conrad with the tools to do so.

"Most of it is incorrect," he says of information commonly provided in history textbooks. "Now we are getting access to the primary sources, to tell a different side from the Native American perspective."

Generally speaking, Conrad says, "Native American students learn better when there is something about their tribe or culture that is integrated into the curriculum."

Schools also play a role in helping to transmit and explore Native American culture.

"It is very important that Native American students get to know their language and their culture," he adds. "That is the bottom line -- that all school districts that have a high population of Native American students do that."

For Rogers, an instructional facilitator at LVHS, the importance of providing a culturally relevant curriculum was embodied in a student who was enrolled simultaneously in a traditional English class and a Native American literature course that she taught.

The student seldom participated in the traditional course and barely earned a D grade. In Rogers' course, his performance fell on the other end of the continuum.

"In the Native American literature class, he sat in the front, it was almost hard to keep him quiet and he got an A," she says, noting that class was based on a college-level course. "Relevant curriculum and meaningful connections really do make a difference for students."

Helping other educators overcome common fears about accidentally offending students or community members and providing them with effective classroom strategies, was a primary motivator for Rogers' enrollment in the UW certificate program.

"I thought if I could become a teacher educator I can start planting that seed in the minds of people early in their career, rather than having them get stuck five years down the road," she says. "It is easier to keep going in the direction they are going, instead of trying something new."

She helps to prepare pre-service teachers for that opportunity as an instructor in the Wyoming Teacher Education Program.

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