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Univ. of Washington Launches Native Education Program

A new certificate program run by the University of Washington's College of Education will aim to better educate and equip teachers, especially non-Native teachers, to work with Native students.

The program will offer online courses on aspects of Native life and culture, such as tribal sovereignty, and students will spend time in Native communities before completing the program. At least 25 staff members from the Wellpinit School District, a majority-Native American district in eastern Washington, will be the first participants of the program.

"One of the things that is really vital to becoming better educators to Native children is understanding Native communities," said Megan Bang, an associate professor of education, in a university news release. "Some teachers are great teachers, but if you ask them if they've spent time in the community and really understand Native children and culture, they'll say no," Bang said.

About 6.2 percent of students in Washington state are Native and studies show those students are more likely to be homeless and face discipline than their non-Native peers. An article published last year by the Seattle Times reported that during the 2013-14 school year, 7.6 percent of Native American students were homeless, compared to 2.3 percent of white students and 4.1 percent of Hispanic and Latino students. A 2014 report found that in nine Washington state school districts that were examined, Native American students were more likely to be suspended or expelled than their white or Hispanic peers.

A 2013 series by Education Week highlighted the many challenges facing Native American communities, including high rates of poverty and low graduation rates. Students in those communities are often impacted by alcoholism, suicide, and high unemployment rates. In addition to educating non-Native teachers on tribal life, many tribes and colleges are attempting to increase the number of Native teachers who are becoming teachers. As a result, some districts that have hired more Native teachers have seen graduation rates increase and improved academic performance.

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