PENDLETON -- Fewer than half of Native American students graduate from the Pendleton School District – a rate much lower than that of white students and significantly lower than the statewide average for Native Americans, said officials who want to increase the graduation numbers.
Most of Pendleton’s Native American students come from the nearby Umatilla Indian Reservation.
The district has a graduation rate of 45 percent, the East Oregonian (http://bit.ly/1BLeq69) reported Saturday.
The figure is more than 30 points lower than white students. Statewide, Native Americans graduate at a rate of 54 percent.
Historical and generational trauma has weighed heavily on Indian students. Indian boarding schools were often the sites of forced assimilation and abuse, said Ramona Halcomb, education director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
The district last year got a $100,000 state grant to create a curriculum focused on Native Americans, including Umatilla history and culture.
Some of the money will go for copies of a recently published Umatilla dictionary for every third- through eighth-grade classroom, said Assistant Superintendent Tricia Mooney.
The district hopes to hire a “heritage language” kindergarten teacher for the soon-to-open Pendleton Early Learning Center. Officials want to find someone for the position who is either fluent in the Umatilla language or is qualified to teach English as a second language and willing to learn the Umatilla language.
The school system sees Native American teachers in the pipeline. A dozen students have joined Oregon Teacher Pathways at Pendleton High School. The program is designed by Eastern Oregon University to help districts cultivate teachers from their minority student populations.
The district is also using a $20,000 state grant on expanded recruitment of teachers in Spokane, Idaho and Montana.
The combined effort of the district and tribe mirrors a collaboration that began in 2004. The Nixyaawii Community School offers classes in the Umatilla language, Native American art and tribal drumming.
Despite these culturally inclusive practices and a favorable rating from the state last year, Nixyaawii was able to graduate only half of its 12-person class last year.
Nixyaawii Principal Ryan Heinrich said one of his biggest challenges is getting students to come to school to take advantage of its classes and programs.
While attendance is an issue districtwide, Halcomb said the tribal organization is specifically targeting Indian absenteeism by offering parenting classes in historical trauma and bullying.