“We as teachers rarely get the opportunity to voice our concerns, so this was an incredible opportunity. I have more hope for the future of our school.” – From a site visit with mission school teachers.In 2013, Better Way Foundation issued more than $720,000 in grants to American Indian mission schools. Through Better Way support to Creighton University, a team of consultants are currently working to strengthen the five schools in the Indian Mission Schools Network. Creighton’s team visited the five network schools to interview students, teachers, parents and administrators to understand their needs and dreams. The consultants worked with the schools to design a professional development initiative to ensure the future and success of the students and the schools.
During the site visits, students, teachers, parents and administrators shared their struggles, needs and hopes for the future. Parents of mission school students spoke out about how difficult life on the reservation can be and described the positive impact these schools have on their children’s lives. At St. Michael Indian School, the overwhelming priority of parents was to encourage teacher retention rates. Parents cited them as key to their student’s college preparation. They commended the young teachers for their passion, energy and commitment. Many of the teachers are new to reservation life and used the opportunity to express a desire for cultural guidance. To increase retention and support teachers, Better Way Foundation is funding the teachers’ professional development, investing in bringing cultural resource to the classroom, and enhancing collaboration with the local communities.
At De La Salle Blackfeet—another network school where consultants Desi Small-Rodriguez, Julie Cajune and Anne Steinhoff are working to implement changes—students were excited to share their thoughts and opinions, highlighting the importance of their voices in the funding and evaluation process. They were thrilled to share what they love about their school and provided tangible opportunities for improvement.
The information gathered during these site visits will form an important part of the next phase of funding to improve the mission schools, informing the implementation of funding in a way that will most benefit the schools and its students. Better Way is excited to be part of this important opportunity.