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Rural Arizona Charter School Boosts College Enrollment Rates

A charter school in rural Arizona that serves mostly Native American students is improving high school graduation and college enrollment rates for students who have traditionally lagged their peers.

A recent story by Education Week's Catherine Gewertz highlighted the STAR School, which serves 130 Navajo students in pre-K-8. Eighty percent of STAR's 8th grade students graduate high school in four years after leaving STAR, compared to the state average of 61 percent for Native American students, and 70 percent for American Indian students nationwide. Seventy percent of STAR's graduates attend college within a year of completing high school, compared to 63 percent of all students nationwide.

Mark Sorensen, one of the founders of the school, said in the article that STAR has integrated Navajo cultural values into its curriculum to help students connect and find relevancy in school. The school also has a partnership with Northern Arizona University and all students participate in community-based projects and study agriculture, nutrition, and health. "We want our kids to come out feeling they are totally relevant and have the power to impact their community," Sorensen said. "Often [for Native American students], college prep is weak. Many kids come from homes on dirt roads without indoor plumbing or consistent electricity. College can be a big cultural leap, so it's important to build on the asset of the kids' strong connection to place, family, and culture."

In the past year, Native American college- and career-readiness has been a focus for the Obama administration, which has sought more funding and launched several programs to improve outcomes for children in Native communities. Native students who attend college are less likely than their peers to graduate. As of 2012, only 39 percent of Native students who started college at a four-year school in 2005 as first-time, full-time students graduated, compared to 60 percent of white students

To read more about the STAR school and obstacles for students in rural areas, reach Gewertz's full article here.

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