COOS COUNTY – For the first time in Oregon history, efforts are being made to not only improve attendance for Native American students, but re-establish trust with the parents.
Oregon's Deputy Superintendent visited the Coos Bay and North Bend School Districts on Wednesday to celebrate the beginning of a new school year and the $150,000 Tribal Attendance Pilot Project grant. The grant will last for two years.
“We're excited about the project because it brings into focus a critical issue, which is attendance, but we have to be mindful of the fact that attendance varies a great deal depending on the different populations in our schools,” said the state's Deputy Superintendent Salam Noor. “We have to get to know our kids and get to know them as individuals, as part of communities, and identify the best strategies possible to get them to attend, be engaged, learn, and be part of the learning experience in every way possible.”
Spearheading the TAPP grant were Ramona Halcomb, the Indian Education Specialist for the Oregon Department of Education, alongside April Campbell, who works for the deputy superintendent.
“I used to be an education director for my tribe and when I heard April was getting the Native American state plan together I was excited to be involved,” Halcomb said. “One of the benefits of the TAPP grant is the ability to collaborate with communities and school districts and adapt to the children's needs, which is an important factor.”
Not only does the grant money help encourage Native American students to come to school, but it is being used schoolwide for every student.
The grant is for elementary schools. In the Coos Bay School District, the money will be used in Madison and Blossom Gulch Elementary; in the North Bend School District it will be used in Hillcrest and North Bay Elementary. Additional funding is being provided for the district's Indian Education Coordinators to spend extra time to check in on the students and see how they are doing.
“We want to make this a positive experience for students so that it carries on to higher grade levels,” said Lisa DeSalvio in a previous interview, Coos Bay School District's special programs director. “There's so much research coming out about the impact of attendance and how important it is, and how some of the worst attendance can happen in kindergarten because parents don't think it's important and would rather keep kiddos home so they can do this or that. When this happens, it is set up from the get-go that coming to school is not important.”
As previously reported by The World, both districts worked with the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua and Siuslaw Indians and the Coquille Indian Tribe on developing a tribal grant. The $150,000 grant idea came from an Oregon Department of Education committee after data showed regular and significant attendance problems for Native American students.
“We don't know why this is a problem,” DeSalvio said. “That's why there is a grant to fix it. It's there to find out why this has been happening.”
However, Halcomb explained that poor tribal attendance is a complex issue because part of it goes back to 1879 when the Native American boarding schools were first started.
“Part of the problem we're seeing now could be the historical trauma that Native Americans faced,” she said. “There was a boarding school era where children were taken out of homes and assimilated. They weren't allowed to speak their language or practice their religion, they weren't allowed to wear their tribal dress or hair, all of that was stripped from them, so there is a lack of trust with parents in the school system. This is why it is so important because this is a way to rebuild that trust.”
Deputy Superintendent Noor had more to say regarding supporting and protecting children as far as the DREAMers Project goes. With President Donald Trump's efforts to repeal DACA, millions of children and young adults face being deported to countries they don't remember.
“We issued a press release supporting Governor Brown's position on this,” Noor said. “Those students are Oregon students and many haven't experienced any other place but the United States. They should have stability not disruption in their lives. We should honor their contributions to our state and nation-wide.”
In terms of schools, Noor believes they should maintain a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students and continue to serve every student that walks into any Oregon school.
“This should not impact what we do as far as supporting our students and their families,” Noor said. “It's important to note that many of those kids are part of our state and our country. They deserve to be safe and have stability and not have it disrupted constantly.”