Learning Out Loud: Bringing Forth the Wisdom and Practices of Indigenous Communities
Learning Out Loud | Insights | Q&A 22 July 2021
How do we provide a place and an experience and a community that can reconnect those things that are seamlessly and naturally human and connected to who we are as Indigenous people?
President, The One Gen Fund
On July 7th, 2021, Kelly Young, Education Reimagined’s President, hosted the fourth Learning Out Loud with Education Reimagined conversation, featuring guest, Kara Bobroff, President of The One Gen Fund and Founder of Native American Community Academy. View the recording of the conversation below along with the conversation summary and full, lightly edited transcript.
Conversation Summary (with timestamps)
[02:12] Kelly reviews why we emphasize learning ecosystems as equity-focused, community-based, and learner-centered. [09:26] Kara shares about her Navajo and Lakota roots and her professional background in education. [14:04] Kara began learning more deeply about the historical context of forced assimilation and how that historical trauma continues impacting Indigenous learners today. [18:44] Kara talks about her inspiration for Native American Community Academy (NACA) after seeing resource-rich, land-based learning happening in the Bay Area. [21:38] Kara shares the story of NACA and what they’ve accomplished since opening in 2005. [29:01] Kara shares the history, as introduced to her by her nephew, of The Navajo Long Walk in 1864. [32:39] Kara explores what Indigenous Education looked like prior to contact with Europeans. [38:53] Kara talks about the impact of Indigenous learners getting to engage in learning that is personalized, relevant, and contextualized. [42:57] Audience Q&A
[00:08] Kelly: All right. Well, we are going to go ahead and get started. So welcome to the fourth episode of Learning Out Loud. This is the last in our first series, and we’ll be announcing our second series soon. I’m going to let Paul get us started before I jump in.
[00:32] Paul: Awesome. Thank you, Kelly. As Kelly mentioned last of our first four conversations here where we’ve really been doing kind of a big picture theme of this ecosystem conversation. The second series will be more focused on this kind of paradox of freedom and funding where it seems the more freedom we have, the less funding is available and and vice versa where a lot of the funding shows up is actually where it seems the most restrictions are in place.
So be looking forward to that, and that’ll start on August 4th and we’ll have more details in the coming weeks. And to get this conversation started off. If you’ve been with us in the past, you’ll know we’ve been starting with our community guidelines.
So I’m going to go ahead and share my screen real quick and we’ll run through this list and get things going from there. I invited last time and invite again this time to consider one of these five points and focus on one that you can maybe keep in mind throughout the hour conversation that you want to remain most present to.
For me, the first one is my favorite and the one I am going to be most present to in this conversation. And that is listen to understand and not to respond. The next one is keep an open mind, assume you can learn from everyone in the room. Consider different points of view and experiences, be respectful and kind use positive language and be conscious to step back or step up so all who wish can contribute. And with that, Kelly take it away.
[02:12] Kelly: Wonderful. Well, as you know, or you may know if you’ve been to many of these that the basis of these conversations is three separate components that are all intertwined into creating a new future for education. One is equity. Second is learner-centered and the third is community-based ecosystems.
We have been exploring these three topics interrelatedly on all of our calls. And we’re going to continue that today. I’m going to just start by sharing what we mean by each one of those terms, very briefly. We can go into these incredibly deep, but we’re going to stay at a high level today.
We have added three distinctions to our lexicon. So if you’ve not ever seen our lexicon, we have historically distinguished what we mean by learner-centered paradigm. What we mean by the five elements of learner-centered learning. And we just added three new distinctions for diversity, inclusion, and equity.
And so you can find those on our website, if you just Google education reimagined lexicon, but I’m just going to read a little bit about equity.
So we distinguish equity as an ideal group state, where every group member is supported in attaining all relevant outcomes. Compensating for unfair advantages and disadvantages, including those caused by the cumulative impact of historically persistent inequities.
So by equity, we don’t just mean equal. Right. It really is how do we uniquely support each young person get where they want to go. And that we recognize that there are unfair disadvantages and historical inequities that need to be compensated for in our pursuit of serving our youth, especially our most marginalized youth.
By learner-centered you know that we mean that the system is focused on learning, sees each child as unique, capable, curious, and wondrous, thinks that learning is a natural phenomenon that starts with young people’s curiosities, interests, and aspirations, and that the goal of education, rather than to get us to a predetermined common end point, is really for us to discover our unique gifts and how to contribute those meaningfully to the world.
And then third, what do we mean by community-based ecosystem? And this is something I’ve done the most learning with regards to just in the last week, because I realized that what ecosystem means is very different to different people. And that there has been a lot of discussion about learning ecosystems, especially in the out of school time space.
And what those ecosystems mean is simply the interconnectedness of learning, but it has not meant an equitable, learner-centered, community-based ecosystem that is a full blown system that, in our minds, could replace, eventually, the current way of educating children.
And so when you hear us, me in particular or Kara, today, speaking about ecosystems, assume we are talking about the future state of an ecosystem where learning already happens in a dramatically different way than in a school.
So what we mean by, I’m going to use the term now in the short form, which is ecosystem, what we mean by that future vision is that young people are supported to be able to navigate the rich wealth of wisdom and learning experiences in a community, in the world, and are supported in setting their goals, creating their learning journeys, making sense of their learning, and making sure that it all adds up to supporting them to get where they want to go in life.
And so we’ve talked on other episodes around… there are kind of three units we’ve been talking about. One is a home base, a place where you are in a community of learners. Many young people who are in advisories, that I would consider part of a home base, describe it as a family where people love them, know them, are deeply connected to their families as well as to the child themselves, know the circumstances of the young person.
And then you have a learning hub, which are places where lots of different learning experiences might happen. So, and those could be anywhere in the community from a YMCAs to a converted school to a to a community center.
And then third, there are field sites. Those are all of the places where learning just happens, whether that’s somebody’s home or a place where you’re working, doing an internship.
So just about anything can be a field site in an ecosystem, but that’s what we’re going to explore today is equitable, learner-centered, community-based ecosystems and what we have to learn from Indigenous ways of being and and the wisdom that, that comes from it from Indigenous folks.
And I’m super excited to have Kara Bobroff join, who has most recently and Kara, I don’t have actually the most recent position that you served. In New Mexico, you were the… can you remind me of your title?
[07:58] Kara: Yeah, my core role was Deputy Secretary of Identity, Equity, and Transformation, and also served as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Education. And at one point was the interim Secretary of Education. So basically whatever needed to happen during that point, but the real focus was to bring more of a way the state could support schools, districts, and educators, and thinking about cultural and linguistically responsive education as well as identity.
And for me, identity is at the core of the mission of the work that we’ve done with NACA and NACA Inspired Schools Network. We can talk a little bit about that and why that is so aligned with the work that this group and community is leading.
[00:08:44] Kelly: Beautiful. And just to say a little bit more about your background, you were the founder of NACA, which was a Native American school and and also Native American inspired schools, NACA inspired schools.
Correct. And and currently leads The One Gen Fund where she focuses on identifying promising early stage innovations that build sustainable solutions for Indigenous communities.
So we’re super excited to have you, Kara, here. I love that you started directly, went in with identity. Do you want to talk a little bit first about how and why you started the first school that you founded and then created NACA inspired schools, the network?
[09:34] Kara: Yeah. Thanks so much Kelly and Paul and everybody for joining this afternoon. My name is Kara Bobroff. I’m Navajo on my mother’s side and Lakota on my father’s side. I was raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico by two public school educators and middle school teachers. And then went on to be… My father was a principal and then became a superintendent of our school district.
My family is originally from a place called Ramah, New Mexico, which is part of the Navajo Nation, which is about two and a half hours from where I grew up. On my mother’s side, I’m the Salt Clan. So we identify ourselves through our mother’s side and it’s often through a specific identification with a clan, which then helps you identify what relatives you have within any given community and also help share where you’re from in that area.
I was born for Lakota and my biological father is from Pine Ridge in that area in South Dakota. And so I am Lakota on that side. And then raised in Albuquerque, which is not too atypical for a lot of Indigenous folks because, historically, of the federal policy, largely related to education as well, relocated many of us to urban settings.
My academic and professional backgrounds in education as far as being a special education teacher. I taught at the school I went to, which is really interesting for any of you that have had that experience before kind of being a student and then going back maybe 10 years later and really seeing all the things you thought were true or felt at the time consciously and subconsciously, and then to see it as an adult and seeing like how those practices have been playing out for students was really eye opening for sure.
I spent a little time in the Bay Area. About four years as a Dean of Students in Marin County just north of San Francisco where it was probably the first time I saw real large inequities in education, both based on my experience as a student and a teacher between like what was happening within my home community and what was happening in Marin County and what students had access to and how learning was thought about and how teachers were supported and how the school functioned with community.
Then I transitioned to be a principal on the Navajo Nation in between Shiprock and Gallup. How many of you guys have been to Shiprock or Gallup or the Navajo Nation?
All right. So, yes. Okay. Awesome. I was the Principal of a school that had about 250 students, both middle and high school, roughly, was 330, and served probably I would say the race is about a hundred miles in each direction was a very, what you would maybe, I guess, like connect to being in a rural area, tribal rural kind of an environment on the Navajo Nation with a 98% population of Navajo students where I saw for the first time, kind of the the impact of what happens when a school is not responsive to students, especially in their home community, around things like language, culture, and identity.
And I can talk a little bit about that in a second when I talk about NACA. Then I returned home to start the Native American Community Academy. So just with that, I think I wanted to introduce myself so at least get a grounding of who we are which I think also kind of speaks to what it is that many folks believe in around how do we center on who we are and how we exist in relation to one another. And that’s a core value of our community called Kē. It really grounds us in, not only the relations to your immediate family, but your extended family and to other other people in relationships that you have within your community.
So that’s something that’s really important. I just want to share that with you all. Going back kind of the story about NACA. Thanks Kelly for asking. That is probably the most, somebody asked me the other day, like, what was the best day of your life? And for me it was really easy.
It was in 2012 when we had the first graduation ceremony for our students at the Native American Community Academy after seven years. For any of you who were also charter school folks or anybody who’s ever started an entity or something from an idea into reality to be able to see that come alive within students is really, really powerful.
I always enjoy sharing that. There’s a long story, and then there’s a shorter story, but I will try to share the one that I think is most relevant this morning and this afternoon.
As I grew up, I attended a school that was in a school district of about 90,000 students at that time.
Roughly anytime in the trajectory of the time I grew up to today, there’s about 6-7,000 students who self identify as Native American. Largely I didn’t have like one teacher, counselor, or principal who was Native American. And when I think about that, it’s pretty crazy to me because 11% of the overall population in my state are Native American people.
The other thing that was really absent in that experience, both as a student and as a teacher in the school district that I worked in, was that the curriculum at that time didn’t have any kind of representation of Native American students or families or communities or culture or history or governance.
Or different ideas around philosophy or learning views or anything related to Indigenous communities in a place that is grounded, as we know, with like 22 tribes that are geographically located in New Mexico, as well as like, you know, a number of different entities that have served Native American students and families before.
So that was really absent. And it had like a lot of negative impact on my own development as a student. And also how I felt I belonged in that learning space. There was other strengths that I brought to school that helped me succeed and thrive enough to go on to college. But it wasn’t until I got to college that I actually took a course that had a focus on Native American studies.
I was an education major at the time, and psychology major, but one of the classes I took asked us to do a self discovery project related to anything we wanted to. So I picked the history of the Navajo Nation and their education system. So I was pretty young. I would say I was like 19, 20 years old as we are when we go to college and that was the first time that my eyes really opened up to like what had happened historically to our tribe.
And also what the public education and federal education system has done to hundreds and thousands of Indigenous people across our country. As you can imagine, like some of that history is really, really tough and really heart-wrenching to read about.
And I have an extended relative who was a founder of the Rough Rock Demonstration school out of Arizona, which was one of the first schools in the sixties to really reintegrate culture and language into the school.
And she happened to be a professor at my college. And so I asked her out for coffee being like, you know, a curious student. I had a chance to connect with her and politely asked her to try to explain the history of education for the Navajo Nation to me in like an hour or two. And she just looked at me and very patiently said I would love to, but also like now I think about it, she’s written books about this. She’s spent her entire life and career along with her colleagues and really trying to think about how to better serve Native students. But that was really important because it was like an opportunity that was self guided that really connected me to something that was meaningful. And that was the first moment I would say that I actually thought I would do something related to Native American education. I didn’t know what, I just had an internal feeling that I wanted to do something. But I wasn’t sure what that would be.
So learning about that history was really, really important. I went on to become a special education teacher and had an opportunity to think about holistic education in a way that was very different. I think that was because of the experience I had working with at-risk youth in a different study outside of education, which was a residential treatment center where students were kind of in a holding pattern between either foster care and their home or the children’s psychiatric hospital and their home.
But that was like a team approach where we were mentors to students and they were really sharing with us their interest in all of the things that would support them and who they were and how they developed, which also was really meaningful. I was a educator as a teacher and an administrator in the time of three strikes and you’re out.
I don’t know how many of, you can raise your hands again if you want on zoom, remember that era and it was horrible. It was so against who I was as a person, I just felt like, why are we, why are we being asked to do this? And how is this actually helping children in schools and the public education system, both in schools that I taught at, but also where my brothers and sisters attended?
During that time I was in Marin County, this was a school where students had access to inquiry-based STEM education outside. They could work at a creek to learn about science. They were reading amazing core literature that really represented a lot of diverse backgrounds. It wasn’t a question about whether students would go to college.
It was like, what college would they go to? It was just really, really, really different. The school is extremely responsive to parents and also enrichment activities, a lot of ability for kids to kind of figure out what it was based on their passion and also based on like their curiosities. And I started to wonder what would happen if we had the same staff in the same school in the same setting located in Albuquerque, or even at that time, I lived in San Francisco or in Oakland or on the Navajo Nation.
And just really started to think about it that. Meanwhile, back home, No Child Left Behind kind of kicked in and people are starting to look at data and started to see that the gaps between Native students and other students and an equity council was started. That council worked with a couple of different advocates.
These two gentlemen, one on health and one on education, who floated the idea of a Native American charter school or a Native American magnet school. That was the first time I heard about it and started to get curious. Every time I’d go home, I’d visit and learn a little bit more. And then as I moved to the Navajo Nation, I was for the first time, you know, wasn’t super competent to becoming a principal or administrator there due to the fact that I didn’t speak my own language fluently.
And as I started to learn more, it was almost like the stories that I heard. And what I had learned about the deep south, where there was a predominant population of students with a leadership that had very low expectations for Native students. And and that was ingrained both institutionally as well as with the decisions that were being made for those students.
And it was really difficult for me to see. Students were doing worksheets. It was very rote. The community was kind of kept at the door. Language and culture weren’t seen as an asset. It was seen as a deficit so much that some of the leadership within the school board would say things like, well, if we teach students how to speak Navajo, they’re not going to be able to write.
It’s clearly not even understanding the research that was counter there as well as just the way that I was perceived as not being like other Navajos. And so I just remember that first three months thinking we need to do something dramatically different. So I opened up the system quite a lot, invited families in, and more student voice and saying this is your school.
What do you want to see? Bringing in a variety of different perspectives around learning as well as trying to engage community to take more leadership within the school. And really saying, this is your place to be. Outcomes started to shift. Things started to change. It was really special group of students.
And as we continued on and moved back to Albuquerque, having that same conversation about the need for the school and where we started was engaging our community back in 2005 to really have conversations about what do you want to see for your child or your grandchild or your niece or your nephew?
After probably 200 different conversations that I was able to have as well as convening people around these ideas. And I think about that, I didn’t call it school design then or learning design, but that’s kind of what was going on is universally three things came to the front. One was that students would have access to college and be prepared to go onto their next step after the schools experience. Second is that they would be able to focus on identity. And that was really in a way that was very much more healthy than experiencing some of the negative things that our students and families had experienced in school. And lastly, that they were holistically well. That they were you attended to as far as far as their social-emotional wellbeing.
As far as their physical health and development, their intellectual development and their connection to their community and overall spirituality. With spirituality not being religiosity, but really being, what’s an essence of who you are and your own spirit and development. Those four things are wrapped up in what’s called the NACA wellness philosophy, which is pretty, I would say, like accessible by many tribes and people around holistic wellness and development.
And that’s the foundation of what NACA came to kind of get it started around is that we wanted students to be recognized for all aspects of who they are. And then from there, have the teachers and program leaders and anybody associated with the school to keep all of those things at the forefront in designing any kind of learning experiences or opportunities that the students engaged in, so that there would be a connection intentionally to their overall wellness and holistic development, their identity—meaning both their backgrounds as who they are, whether they were Navajo, Lakota, an African-American and also of like poetry, if they were you know, Mexican and Pueblo, and also, you know, from the Blackfeet nation that there was an intentionality that students would be able to understand what that means if they were even like super connected to their culture or even disconnected because of the historical context.
That was like really important to have that open-endedness for students to be able to explore that. And then lastly, that they’re holistically well and have a way to measure their own growth and development that makes sense to them to set goals around what it is that they’re achieving in school that they can share with their family and the broader community.
So NACA started with sixth and seventh grade. We stayed in that school model. I was looking at a map recently that kind of shows a visualization or the network that we created around the school. We thought of the school in a different way. And largely because of the experience that I had and shift back and early years as a teacher was that it seemed like to me, that kids and families are often asked to conform to the school.
And if you don’t conform to the school and its model, then you don’t fit, right. So there you’re either pushed out or students leave or families feel disengaged or you see poor academic outcomes or you see you other social-emotional indicators that come from that. So we wanted to change that and transform that, so that the school would be responsive to the community and of service to the community.
So at the center of like, what it is we do is that we are responsive to students and families in that way and responsive to the community in that way. And changing that dynamic, not only from like an interest of what’s happening at the school, but from a power standpoint. So with all that said, we opened in 2005, we’ve grown quite a bit.
We had our first graduating class in 2012 and then went on to open an elementary school. And there’s a group of families right now working on a Navajo immersion schools as a pre-K entity that will help feed into the school itself. Through that trajectory, this is now, I think, 15 years out, we’ve had 10 graduating classes. It’s really hard to believe that, but it’s great. We serve 62 different tribes, like 13 different ethnicities. We have had to really create the system to support the mission and vision that came from people’s lived experiences and hopes and aspirations for kids.
So when you think about the whole redesign of something, it has to start with that. It seems to me what is it we really want for students and families? And that’s very much aligned with how I think Indigenous communities work and function is that everybody comes around the table to contribute.
Everybody has a role, and everybody has input and responsibility. And I think that is really important to the success of what NACA was, how NACA was able to start and how it has been able to sustain and be true to the mission and vision. Out of that came the NACA inspired schools network, and that is something that started officially in 2014.
We work with a variety of families, tribes, different folks across the country. And land-based to ask those very questions. Like, what is it you want to see for your children? And then how do we design a school or a learning experience based on that? What we’re finding is that the traditional charter school model, the traditional like public school model, the traditional BIE, or even tribally led school model, isn’t always working.
And that’s where this work around ecosystems really makes sense to me is that we have hubs of learning that are tied to land. So we’ve even been able to launch a land-based learning team that connects students to things through agriculture, through water, as well as Indigenous sciences, where students are learning, you know, not in a school building and not even like on the same premises as the school.
Other opportunities to have mentors who are teaching Indigenous languages to students. And that may not be your common teacher. It’s not somebody who necessarily is going to go through the same teaching program or even alternative licensure program, but really somebody who knows the language.
You know, one thing that sticks with me around that is that if we don’t change the trajectory of like language preservation in our country, by 2050, it’s estimated that we would go from kind of the original 300 plus languages before contact down to about 160 or 175 now, we would end up about 52 that are actively being spoken in the United States.
So those are the kinds of things that I think ecosystems can help address because it changes the way that we think about learning, who we learn from, and how we learn. These schools are like an existence. There’s a Lakota language school that just opened and celebrated their first year with a group of nine, 10 students out in Rosebud (South Dakota) as well as the school in Denver that is working with that community there around what it is they want to see. And then other schools that will come online as we start to continue this work, but they are often very much tied to their community, to their land base, to a set of existing Indigenous core values and reconnecting to what was taken out during the boarding school years.
One thing that I like to share is that as I was doing the work with NACA, when I had this conversation with my nephew and he’s really great. I have I many great nephews, just like, I know this is being recorded. You’re all awesome. If people watch it, I don’t know if they’ll watch this or not, but one of them really got connected to his culture very early on in middle school.
And he went from like BIE schools to a small private school to a large private school to a public school. He just really was trying to search for the right place. But all along that trajectory where his heart was, was learning about his language, his culture, songs, ceremonies, and now he serves as a social worker, but it’s very much grounded in Navajo language and culture and healing.
But I remember having this conversation with him and he said, yeah, you know, when you think about the history of the Navajo Nation in 1864, the United States government relocated hundreds of Navajo people to Bosque Redondo, which was the Navajo Long Walk. How many of you’ve heard of that?
I can do the zoom thing. Okay. So basically we’re forcibly removed, to walk 400 miles across our state to be put into an internment camp for two years. The idea that time was that if they weren’t able to settle on a treaty understanding is that the folks that were there from Navajo Nation would then be relocated to Oklahoma or Florida or other parts of the country.
And we had four or five headmen that were there and they negotiated with the United States government. And this was after many people had fallen ill to different diseases had died a lot of different kinds of violence, starvation just some really, you know bad outcomes if you want to call it that.
I mean, but really terrible things that had happened to our families that were in camp there. But the conversation went from Navajo to Spanish and from Spanish to English and English back to Spanish and Spanish back to Navajo. There was a Spanish interpreter is the way that my nephew and I were talking about this.
And he said that as part of the treaty negotiations, the United States government started to have this conversation about an education system. And in order for the Navajo to return to the four sacred mountains where we reside today, which is our original Homeland, is that we’d have to take on this education system.
And so some of the questions the head men had then were really around like, well, what are the patterns of the system? Like, what does it do? We’re trying to understand, like, what is it that we’re agreeing to. So, basically as you look at the treaty it names that students will have like one teacher for every 20, 25 students.
So it was very like what you see today, right? Like one teacher, 25 kids in a classroom, teaching a very rote kind of a curriculum. They didn’t really know what the impact of that was going to be. And there’s the contrast has been very clear to us now that was a method of assimilation.
It was a method of removing language, culture, and children from their homes, or relocating them into boarding schools in order to basically, you know, save the man and kill the Indian was the mantra at that time. And when I think about that, I think about it in a couple of ways. One is that before that, when you think of Indigenous education before any kind of interaction with the U S government or any kind of outside entity or institution, is that learning was seamless.
It was it was, it was easy, right? It was like part of your existence. So I think of our learning philosophy that we had is connected to our four sacred mountains. And you have the emergence of you and you come into your life, then you come into young adulthood, adulthood, then you become an elder and then your life kind of completes itself.
That’s aligned with the four directions, as far as the east. You know, you go to the south, the west and the north. We have our sacred mountains that also align and have specific like associations with each mountain, which is connected to different colors and also connected to the seasons. So all of that learning around Indigenous knowledge is really, really, I would say complex in the sense that you had to learn how the seasons worked.
You had to learn how to, you know, through your own development as a child, you would learn from elders and one another. But it was your, it was basically sustaining your life. And so it was a communal way of being, a communal way of knowing and learning as well as caring for one another and understanding the ecosystem. And this way, I guess, the actual ecology of how to survive and how to thrive were in place.
And then that was deeply connected to our core values, which come through our ceremonies and songs and traditions, both for young men and young women, as well as the role of how we think about our society. That’s just one example from the Navajos perspective and Diné perspective.
There’s many, many more when we think about the Indigenous people in our country as well. So that’s what was in existence and I’m probably not able to do it justice because you know, how do you grab back onto something like that? And as we were talking about NACA and as we reflect on our own work around Indigenous education and really pushing ourselves not to fall back into westernized demands for learning, we always think about like, that’s really hard to ever get back to.
So, we have to mourn that a little bit, and grieve that a little bit, knowing that’s probably, in our lifetime, maybe we can move ourselves in a way that we’re able to have something that is similar to that, we might not ever be the same. Or it might be hopefully. The second part of that is that when you think about that time from 1864 to 1868 for the Navajo people that had to go back, finally were able to go back home after having to enter that treaty and take on the westernized education system, the boarding school system, is that in the fifties and sixties, we had folks rethink education and it led to this thing called the self-determination years where people were launching tribal colleges that were focused on Indigenous education. The Rough Rock Demonstration school, as well as the Ramah day school, which my biological grandma had a key role in kind of helping start, which I found earlier.
And then also, like now we think about like the seventies and eighties when I was in school and nineties is where it was like Indian education was like, somebody pulling me into the library, sitting me down and saying, Kara you have really good grades. Do you need any school supplies? And I was just like, what does that even mean?
You just pulled me out of class in front of all my friends, made me come to the library, sit down to discuss my report card and asked me if I needed school supplies. So, if you want to deconstruct that, believe me, I have much later in life. That was as insufficient, if not damaging, to people at that time.
And still today, I’m sure there’s a deficit mindset about Native American students and other students and what they’re capable of and what their needs are. And preexisting assumptions about what a student, who they are and what they need and where they come from. So we can talk about that some other time, but that really upsets me very much to see that happening in education systems.
In order to change that, there’s Indian like education where it’s like, okay, one period a day you’re going to learn about Native American studies or one period a day or one hour you’re going to have access to Navajo language if you go to a school where the principal thinks that they can fit it into your schedule, because you have to go through all these other things in order to be able to be certified, to go on to the next grade or certified to go onto your next life path.
So that didn’t work. And we heard that from parents. That the system was fragmented. Often it just depended on where their child went as to whether or not they got access to something that was relevant to them, responsive and healthy.
And then lastly, like the charter school system, we’ve been able to be successful in that as the, as NACA has and some of the other schools. In some geographies, it’s not accessible to be able to have that kind of pathway and autonomy.
But we also heard from folks who were working on the really urgent needs and things that I think are probably one of the largest moral obligations our country has around Indigenous languages, is that the constraints of the charter school system itself and the federal guidelines for that doesn’t allow for things like a Montessori Indigenous language school to exist in its truest form.
This one school at the Keres Children’s Learning Center, some of you have maybe met Tracy Cordero or Trisha Moquino who started the school, but it’s a thriving school in Cochiti Pueblo that is based on the Montessori method. That’s totally independent outside of any kind of, federal or state structure.
It has been really, really successful. And the one thing that they had really set out to do is to preserve their language and have that language thrive. There’s more schools like that. And other programs like that that are just kind of emerging that are truly grounded in the community, led and nurtured by folks within that community that are being able to be successful.
And those are the schools that like, when I think about the way The One Generation Funds, we really want to support and uncover and think about how do we utilize… or like approaches as far as ecosystems and learning to do that kind of work. So those are some things that we have learned.
There’s a lot more that I can talk about that gets into how this impacts students. When I think of some of our alumni and their experiences going on to whether it was an Ivy league school, the local community college, or going into a career that really set them up for success when they are able to know that who they were, where they came from and what they cared about was enough to be able to propel them into doing what it is that they’re doing today has been really, really impressive to see that as well as realizing that we had to create an entirely different way of thinking about training for teachers called Growing Educators for Native American Communities.
So we created that with a community college in order to have teachers who wanted to do this work that weren’t traditionally certified teachers to come into the system, to be able to get them certified to do that. As well as the Indigenous Educator Corps, which is kind of an early onset entryway through an AmeriCorps experience.
I think the other thing is like the transferability of some of these concepts of holistic wellbeing is something that we want for all students and all children as well as having a focus on culture and identity and what that means when you feel like you’re part of a community and you belong versus on the margins and maybe seen as having deficits because of who you are and what you bring.
And then lastly, the ability to have internships and have the connections with elders in an intergenerational approach is really, really powerful. And I think about one instance when I was with my family in Kansas, and we were hosting a ceremony though for my one of my extended family members who was about to step into a leadership role in education.
And it was a true ceremony. And I remember that I had a personal experience where it really made sense that something connected for me, it really integrated into my own like wellbeing and mind and soul and heart and thinking. And I was like, how do we do that? Right? Because we had a system of education that undid that for hundreds of years, for many, many students and generations of families that we’re going to serve.
And then how do we provide a place and an experience and a community that can reconnect those things that are seamlessly and naturally human and connected to who we are as Indigenous people? So if we can do that, I mean, I would say, I think we would do and serve people well. And if we can do that in community and supporting one another, it gets stronger and stronger every time we are able to succeed in that work.
Lastly, I’d say Indigenous perspectives are grounded in our own worldview and core values and our culture. And that’s not disconnected either. I think there’s been this. Kind of the example of things. Like, I think a lot of school was called character counts, where it was like a, a series of things that we were supposed to take on because we went to the school and I was like, okay.
You know, thinking about the Americans for Indian Opportunity, who did a lot of work with Indigenous leaders, both in the United States and across the world, and they found that Indigenous worldviews really grounded in your values as an Indigenous person, which is grounded to your culture, which is largely grounded to the place of where you’re from.
And so at NACA, we created core values together and then always directed our kids back to their own identity and their tribe or their Pueblo or their nation. And like, what are those core cultural values? And again, going back to the example of the Navajo Nation and that being grounded to those sacred mountains and the concepts that are embedded in those sacred maps and have been the natural way of learning for us since time immemorial are some things that I think are things worth listening to. I feel like I’ve been talking a really long time.
Oh yeah. And I know it’s on zoom, but I just feel like, I just want to say thank you for allowing me some time to share for sure.
[42:57] Kelly: Oh, that was beautiful. And there were so many rich gems in that. And I’m gonna open it up for a conversation. So if people want to ask questions or insights that you just had out of what Kara was saying I’d love to open it up to a little bit of conversation.
[43:20] Wendy: That was amazing. It was absolutely beautiful. And thank you so much for taking the time. We have a school, it’s a Montessori school, and this might be stupid question, but do you do partnerships with other schools? We have a land-based learning program and I’m wondering if we could partner with NACA in some way to integrate Indigenous culture, ceremony, the language of gratitude into our school in different practices we have started in our school. We did the Kairos blanket experience. We had an Anishinaabi teacher a few years ago and it was really powerful, but she’s moved on and I’ve tried to find in Ontario that kind of partnership, but I haven’t been successful.
And I’m just wondering if that’s a possibility.
[44:25] Kara: I mean, as far as I know, one of our network schools is launching the Indigenous Montessori Institute and that’s really to train the teachers that are going to be providing languages within their own communities. So there’s that aspect.
They also have an Indigenous education and anti-racist like work that they do with educators. As far as partnerships with NACA itself, I can connect you to our school and see where that might make sense. And then if there were folks who wanted to connect with the land-based learning team to learn what they’re doing and have started, they can also do that.
I would just need to know your information and happy to share. We do have what’s called an Indigenous Education Knowledge Management Hub, which is really long way of saying we would try to share what our teachers put together as well. And that’s through the network and they’re happy to share that information as well, too.
[45:24] Grant: I think you just asked the question I posted there in the chat. So the network has curated some set of resources that are accessible to other schools, other educators who are interested in accessing some of the wisdom, traditions, not only from Navajo, but from a number of Indigenous peoples throughout the country and Canada, is that a correct statement?
[45:50] Kara: Yeah, so we’ve tried to connect and archive the information that our teachers have developed. One thing that was really evident to us as we started is that there wasn’t a textbook that existed that was going to do what we’re aspiring to do from day one and neither did we want to like fall back into being reliant upon one size fits all textbook of any kind.
Our teachers work with our professional development lead and understanding by design and create all of their curriculum together and have refined that over the years. And that’s the knowledge management hub where you’ll find kind of a combination of both what teachers have created, but also resources that they’ve cited that they’ve found that have been effective.
And I would say probably the longest history of that development of curriculum from middle school, high school on, and then elementary is fairly new for us as well, but that’s where you’ll find some of that. And we did create some modules of like teachers talking about the work in relation to what it is that they were working on. So I can share that as well.
[46:58] Grant: Great. Thanks very much. And just probably if Paul or somebody will please put your contact information in the chat so that some of us who want to can connect with you offline from this. This has been fascinating and wonderful.
[47:16] Kara: Thank you.
[47:20] Julene: I was wondering if I caught this when you were talking and that was about a pipeline of teachers that would have the Indigenous background and understanding. Was that true that you said that you have a pipeline from a community college?
Is there something that we can learn from you with that piece? So getting BIPOC people into the education system and be wanting to be teachers and things like, do you have any advice on that or ideas?
[47:59] Kara: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for asking. We have a really amazing community college called Central New Mexico Community College where NACA resides.
And we started a partnership with them, some of our students went on to do dual credit courses there, and also our families. But I would say that we co-created the the program with existing educators that came to NACA. So largely I would say most of those were Native American educators.
We also had educators that were not Native Americans that worked within our school. So we called it Growing Educators for Native American Communities. The way that the courses were designed for the teachers going through that program was aligned with our learning values and framework and knowledge.
So we redesigned what that experience was as well as what people were learning around the foundations of education. The other thing that we started that resides at our network is called the Indigenous Education Corps. And that’s an AmeriCorps program that identifies community members who want to aspire to become educators within their own community.
And they serve as AmeriCorps either full-time or part-time at partnering schools across New Mexico. We’re looking to try to expand that into other areas as well, but it could be utilized for any kind of learning, or if you’re thinking about trying to recruit more teachers of color, focusing on that, and we’re happy to share that too.
And I think our senior operations person might be on this call right now. I think I saw him earlier, but he could share the model, how it works and how it’s been created and funded as well as like the design, too. But we’re happy to share that for sure. So there’s two different levels kind of folks that are wanting to go right into the classroom and then folks that are already working with kids within the school community and then an existing kind of folks who are interested in Indigenous education.
And the reason that Indigenous education is because we feel like Indigenous education is its own thing and it needs to have a totally different perspective than what you’re going to get in any other kind like education prep program.
[50:20] Julene: I just have one follow-up question. When you think of the Education Reimagined ecosystem kind of model that’s been presented in these calls and thinking about everyone is a teacher.
And then contrasting that with a need, in your situation, to make sure people’s beliefs are aligned and things like that. And I wonder around the ecosystem model that’s being presented, how much that would need to happen? Like learning hubs. I just wonder about that, I guess, to the broader audience here, like what kind of alignment would we need to make sure adults that are part of the ecosystem would have, so that you’re getting to the beliefs around personalized learning and learner-centered learning?
So I don’t know, just a question.
[51:32] Kelly: That’s a great question. And I think just to chime in for a second, I think there’s two things that you were talking about. So one is when you’re in a place where you’re restoring elders back to a place of educating their children, where you don’t have to have a certification, like that’s something that the ecosystem makes easier as opposed to one needing credentials to be able to access the school building to be part of the education of a child.
But I think what you’re saying is if you have a really diverse community, what are the values that need to be shared by the adults in an ecosystem? I think, which is a really good inquiry. Karen, did you have anything to add?
[52:25] Kara: Yeah, I think when we started there had been a state policy called the Indian Education Act that helped redefine education from that perspective. There’s a lot of good things from that, but there was also a lot of lessons learned just around again, the fragmentation of one act for the entire way of being. But with that, there was an ability for the tribal entity or Pueblo, or one of the other nations that we have in our state to create a way to provide a credential for teachers who are teaching language.
And so that was one. It wasn’t through their education institution. They basically said, if I want to teach Navajo language, I can go through these six modules that demonstrates like culture, language, knowledge enough to be able to be certified by the Navajo Nation to teach that in any given school or any place.
And so different tribes and pueblos took advantage of that. And I think that’s a great model because you’re starting with the end in mind and then creating a process around it. The other thing that was, and this is just probably, I’m sure there are principals on here as well, but as the principal of the school, when it started, like everybody in our community had a role and just wanted to make that explicit, because knowledge to me wasn’t like only because you were a secondary educator, only because you’re a math teacher of some sort that’s gone to someplace, but to me, like a lot of the learning that took place around overall wellbeing, development, holistic wellness, and connection to community and identity, wasn’t the knowledge that was valued by our institutions and many of those people who carry that knowledge where the most successful teachers and that kids pointed back to them as being the teacher that made the difference for them because of the Indigenous knowledge that they brought to the school.
We figured out how to get them certified on the back end, but they knew it was way more than what anyone I could have ever imagined being able to share on, through like trying to learn it, like in a different way, I guess.
I don’t know if I’m making sense, but they basically, they had Indigenous knowledge that our kids, just fulfill them in a way that was transformational and continues today. So I would say that’s just something that you’re not going to find. Hopefully more students and families will access to that now, but I think those are the things we’re trying to rebuild. Yeah.
[54:57] Kelly: All right, Andy, you got the last question and I’m sorry, we’ve only got a short three minutes left.
[55:03] Andy: That’s okay. And Kara, I’ll just cue this up as a sort of provocation for all of us. I w I Hearing you talk, maybe understand too, you know, really deep aspects of Indigenous education are its connection to nature and the land, and it’s holism and we see that in the work that we’re doing right now with Hawaii and everything that’s happening there. And there’s a design challenge for all of us to work on here about how we help decision-makers in white dominant culture organizations, somehow walk towards that, those two dimensions. We can’t knock them over the head with it.
They have to sort of experience this and then understand it and embrace it and then bring it into these systems. Do you have examples or do you have suggestions on what that work might look like?
[56:07] Kara: We have a fellowship to connect to that goes through this entire experience and process with families and communities and educators around how to think of… and I like this question, what is Indigenous education? There’s not one answer to that because there’s so many different perspectives around Indigenous like beliefs like learning and experiences and culture and history and governance and future thinking around what is that going to look like for an Indigenous community on the east coast or in Peru or in, you know, so we think about even this on a global level, our kids get to that level of understanding Indigenous people globally.
All that to say is we do have a fellowship for folks who are interested in serving and working with Indigenous communities around how to go through a process like this. I think the other is that it’s just connecting with one another. And I think that when people visit a school like NACA or a school that’s in our network, and have the ability to talk with those students, they really start to see what that means and talking with the educators who have created these learning opportunities. That’s where I feel like it starts to kind of come to life. It does come to life. I think that you can’t back out of that.
There was a really good colleague and friend of mine who’s done a lot of work with charter schools across the country. And when he came to NACA, and a month or two later, he’s like, you know, I go to hundreds of charter schools a year and I went to NACA and after that, I do not look at a school in the same way as I did before I went. It fundamentally changed the way I see things and what I look for and how I think about school.
And I was like, okay. I don’t know what the essence of that “it” is, but it is something that you experience when you feel and then you just know that it’s possible for all children to experience.
[58:12] Kelly: Wonderful. On that note, I just want to thank you Kara for sharing all of the stories. So sorry. My phone is ringing and I can’t turn it off. There we go. All right. But sharing your stories, your wisdom, and your passion for this with us today. There are so many learnings. I’m eager to actually want to take the recording of this and actually mine and share with many more people, many of the insights that you shared with us today. And thank you all for engaging in this conversation. We’re grateful and there’s a lot of work to be done, and it’s much more joyful doing it with all of you. So thank you.