State education officials are stepping up efforts to ensure Wyoming school districts have the resources to meet new Native American social studies standards when they go into effect.
More than 600 educators, social workers, parents and students attended the 10th annual Native American Education Conference at Central Wyoming College last week, where implementing the state’s Indian Education for All standards was emphasized through several breakout sessions and the announcement of new projects for educators to eventually use in the classroom.
The Indian Education for All standards, signed by then-Gov. Matt Mead in 2018, require all Wyoming schools to teach the history, culture and present-day contributions of the region’s tribes. The state must also consult with tribes when developing curriculum and resources for the schools to use.
Wyoming school districts must fully implement the standards for the 2021-22 school year.
Rob Black, the Wyoming Department of Education’s Native American liaison and social studies consultant, said the department has been getting questions about how to teach the history and culture of tribes from the region in a culturally sensitive way.
“As we get closer to full implementation, the department is endeavoring to offer more opportunities for teachers and school districts to learn what the resources are,” he said.
While resources already exist — like a Wyoming PBS video series and lesson plans about the history and culture of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho people — and are available for teachers, education department Chief Policy Officer Kari Eakins announced two new projects to help educators meet those requirements at last week’s conference.
The department will work with Rapid City, South Dakota-based Technology and Innovation in Education and Wind River Reservation community members to create videos of elders sharing what they want Northern Arapaho, Eastern Shoshone and non-Indigenous students to know about the tribes.
Those videos and related lesson plans — like all Indian Education for All resources — will be free and available online.
For the other project, the department received a $1,000,000 grant to develop computer science programming in some Fremont County school districts that will meet requirements for computer science and Indian Education for All.
“These are two big things that we’re excited to get to work with,” Eakins said. “But we know that we need a lot of help in doing that work and that it won’t be successful if we are not good partners.”
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Jason Baldes, who directed of the Wind River Advocacy Center during the push to adopt the standards and currently coordinates the Eastern Shoshone Tribe’s buffalo restoration efforts, said the standards could be better, but they’re “definitely a step in the right direction.”
He said they’ll give students a better grasp of the culture of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes and some of the struggles they’ve had — or are working — to overcome.
“It’s really important that people understand that without understanding, people fight,” he said. “If kids learn about Native American students, they have a better understanding (of them).”
He hopes the standards lead to better understanding of Wyoming’s Indigenous population and eliminate misconceptions to make the Wind River Reservation a more appealing place to visit and participate in cultural events and ceremonies.
Many states have similar Native American education standards, with states like Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota having perhaps the strongest requirements for teaching Indigenous culture and history, Black said.
Last week’s conference didn’t focus entirely on implementing the new Indian Education for All standards. The conference included other educational sessions for teachers and administrators, film screenings, question-and-answer sessions with Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribal citizens, opportunities for networking, activities for children, and even a basketball tournament. It also included keynote addresses on media depictions of Native Americans and the school-to-prison pipeline.
This year’s conference had the highest attendance in its history, Black said.
And with the Indian Education for All standards deadline looming, he said the conference saw more educators from outside Fremont County than it has in the past.
“Native American students aren’t just in Fremont County,” Black said. “More and more teachers are interested in these workshops.”
Black said the conference hopefully gives attendees a better understanding of some of the barriers Indigenous students can face and gives them the tools to help Native American students move on to next steps like college, the military, technical school or the workforce.
“Ultimately, we want kids to stay in school … and move on,” he said.