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Ed. Department to Triple Size of Native American Youth Grant Program

The U.S. Department of Education is tripling the size of a grant program designed to help Native American students succeed in school.

The Native Youth Community Projects will make $17.4 million available to organizations, after awarding $5.3 million in grants to a dozen recipients last yearpine-ridge-reservation-school-bus-native-american-education-500px.jpg

The education department billed the grant program's expansion as the federal government's latest move in a broad effort to boost the college and career prospects for American Indian and Alaskan Native youth.

The department also announced Monday that Acting U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. will soon visit South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to meet with tribal leaders. Education Week did in-depth reporting on education on the Pine Ridge reservation in 2013.

Seven students on the reservation committed suicide in the span of several months. The department awarded the reservation's Pine Ridge School a $218,000 grant in the wake of the suicide cluster.

The department did not indicate exactly when King plans to visit Indian Country, where struggles with education are well-documented.

More than a third of American Indian children live in poverty, and just two-thirds graduate from high school—the lowest of any racial or ethnic demographic group in the nation.

It's an eye-opening reality that has drawn the attention of the White House.

President Barack Obama's Generation Indigenous (Gen I) initiative, a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of the Interior, seeks to address barriers to success for Native American youth.   

The Native Youth Community Projects grants are among the efforts designed to support Gen I.

Last year, the grant money funded projects in nine states and involved more than 48 schools. Each grant supports an approach chosen by a community partnership led by tribes and local schools.

The competitive grant program awards the funds to tribes, schools, and other organizations under the belief they're best equipped to identify key barriers to and opportunities for improving educational and life outcomes for Native youth and develop and implement strategies designed to address those barriers.

The efforts could focus on approaches such as improving preschool programs, adding language immersion classrooms or providing more mental health services.

"The Native Youth Community Projects are an investment in bringing tribal communities together to change that reality, and dramatically transform the opportunities for Native youth," King said in a statement released by the department. "When tribal communities join together around shared goals for Native youth, we will see locally driven solutions coming from leaders who work most closely with students and are best-positioned to lead change."

Photo: A school bus travels the remote roads of South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.--Swikar Patel/Education Week

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