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Study Gives Insight on Effective Teaching Practices for Native Students

Making classes relevant to the real world and integrating culturally based lessons are strategies used by two high-achieving schools with a substantial percentage of Native students.

Those are some of the findings drawn in a new 76-page study by two Harvard Education graduate students on effective teaching strategies for American Indian/Alaskan Native students. They also found both schools had strong relationships among students, teachers, and families, and both had cultures of high expectations.

Native students are a significantly rural population. They also have a disproporationate rate of academic failure, with their dropout rate of 15 percent being nearly double the national average of 8 percent.

This new qualitative research, "Cultivated Ground: Effective Teaching Practices for Native Students in a Public High School," looked at Early College High School in Lumberton, N.C., and Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka, Alaska. The North Carolina school is considered a rural school while Mt. Edgecumbe is in a town.

They chose the schools based on their large percentage of American Indian/Alaskan Native students and their achieving at high levels or improving over time, among other factors. The National Indian Education Association requested the study in an effort to share their effective practices.

The Early College High School in Robeson County was created as part of the North Carolina New Schools project, a statewide initiative started in 2003 intended to "accelerate systemic, sustainable innovation in schools across the state." The 200-student school has been named a National Blue Ribbon school, and American Indian students make up the largest demographic group (39 percent).

"Everyone we spoke with referenced the strong student-teacher relationships that existed and the sense of family and
community that existed at the school," according to the study. "Students and teachers spoke about their acceptance and respect of the diverse communities represented at the school, as well as inclusion of cultural themes in the curriculum. ... Everyone we spoke to at (the North Carolina school) held the students to high standards and had high
expectations of them."

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