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Experts tout importance of data collection in Native education

Panelists at the NAJA session in Miami are, from left, Ahniwake Rose, Brian Greseth, Nadine Groenig and Phil Gover. (Damon Scott photo)

MIAMI — Data collection is a tedious process that is often reserved for academics and researchers. But while it might be seen as a tiresome process, it can have profound implications on Native communities.
In the domain of Native education, accurate data collection has an effect on many things, including what resources a school will receive and what type of programs it offers.

The subject of data was front and center at one of the Native American Journalists Association sessions – Data & Accountability: Education in Indian Country – during its conference July 19-21 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Miami. Brian Greseth, principal of Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School (PECS) in Brighton, was invited to be one of four panelists.

Data matters

Panelists said a critical way to collect data in order to measure student success is through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The act falls under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education and is essentially President Barack Obama’s version of the former “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001.
The reason the ESSA is critical, said panel moderator Ahniwake Rose, executive director of the National Indian Education Association, is because through its assessments it helps educators identify the opportunities and challenges at their respective schools.

For example, the high school graduation rate in Indian Country is 65 percent, while the national average is 75.2 percent. Rose said there are huge gaps in how Native students are performing that are identified through data collection.

“How do you really take the information from data systems, that we’ve gotten through law, and provide more sovereignty and success in education?” Rose said.

Rose said data is important not only to measure student success, but particularly in Native communities, to see if the education being provided is culturally relevant for the unique population.

PECS model

PECS was held up as a success story as a Native school that performs well and provides its students with an education that keeps them connected to their ancestral home.

Part of the reason for PECS’ success, Greseth said, is an emphasis on speaking the Muscogee (Creek) Nation language on a daily basis.

“We wanted to create a place to save the Seminole culture, where students could learn the language, culture and history,” he said. Greseth is in his eighth year as principal.

PECS began 11 years ago as a kindergarten through fifth-grade charter school with about 120 students, but quickly grew. It is now K-8 and has more than 300 students. The idea for the school began after a group of parents and elders got together to discuss building a school on the reservation.

“We have a very unique immersion program,” Greseth said. “Students are immersed in the Creek language all day long from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s all they hear. It’s unique also because the parents have to be involved and take a class to learn Creek.”

How has the program and curriculum worked at PECS? Greseth said PECS ranks in the top 10 of 29 schools in the area and the middle school is ranked No. 1 out of 11. In addition, the school’s third grade reading levels are well above the average in Florida.

Educational sovereignty

Phil Gover, founder of the Sovereign Schools Project at the Tribal Education Department National Assembly in Oklahoma lauded the PECS model and its achievements. He said using data to shape Native education is of utmost importance.

“Indians are only discussed in history class, but our influence is all around us,” Gover said. “Tribes need to think about what role they want to play in education: is it charter, private, public … it’s part of maintaining sovereignty.”

Education issues currently facing Indian Country, according to the panelists, include student assessments that are not written to Native experiences, and a shortage of not only Native teachers, but non-Native teachers who don’t have any relevant experience.

“The big idea is that data helps make connections that lead to better insights,” Rose said.

The fourth panelist was Nadine Groenig, director of Indian education at the Arizona Department of Education.

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Damon Scott
Damon is a staff reporter for The Seminole Tribune. Prior to moving to Florida, he was a reporter and editor for print and digital publications in his home state of New Mexico. When Damon’s not working on a story, you’ll probably find him at a hot yoga class or splashing around on some South Florida beach. Send him an email at damonscott@semtribe.com.

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