Ideas in Action: Native American Community Academy Builds Positive Student Outcomes Through Community Engagement and Culturally-Responsive Education
Tuesday, March 13, 2018 | Nora Kern
Key Takeaway: Native American Community Academy (NACA) engages its community to achieve its mission of addressing the identity, wellness, and college preparation of Native American and Indigenous students.
“You really learn more when it’s connected to yourself as Indigenous people.” This heartfelt feeling, shared by high school student Summer, was repeated in slightly different ways by many students attending the Native American Community Academy (NACA), a charter school in Albuquerque, NM.
Offering classes in native languages is one of the ways that NACA helps build the connection to students’ identity. NACA has classes in five different native languages: Lakota, Navajo, Zuni, Keres, and Tiwa. For most students, these classes are the first time they have had a chance to study a language other than English or Spanish. It is also the first time they have studied their ancestors’ languages.
“We never really knew our language until we came here,” said Summer.
NACA educators have found that teaching native languages, alongside English courses, helps students develop language acquisition and cultural identity.
“Taking Lakota is a chance to learn the culture as well as the language. We get to be around people who understand the language, so we can walk around here and just try to talk as much Lakota as we can,” said Andrew, a high school student at NACA.
NACA leaders consider it their duty to have an ongoing dialogue with families and the community about their needs and bring in many perspectives to shape the school. Given the historical context and trauma of Native Americans being educated in boarding schools that aimed to remove their cultural identity, NACA leaders make identity development and cultural instruction and preservation core values.
As NACA began to see results in closing the achievement gap for Native American and Indigenous students, leaders received requests to replicate the school. NACA Founder Kara Bobroff discouraged visiting educators working in schools with majority Native American and Indigenous populations from trying to replicate NACA as is. Instead, she advised, “What you really want to do is have the conversation with your community about what they want to see in a school. And then think about how you can transition that into a school design that makes sense for your community.”
In this spirit, NACA developed the NACA Inspired Schools Network (NISN). This includes a Leadership Fellows program designed for educators, administrators, and community leaders interested in starting or expanding a school or program focused on Indigenous education. The fellowship teaches participants how to “build relationships with communities, to learn and analyze local needs, and successfully complete the charter school or grant application processes needed to open schools” that focus on Indigenous education. This is the only Indigenous education-focused school leadership and development program in the country. NISN Fellows complete a year-long residency at NACA as part of their training.
NISN received funding in 2016 from the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) Grants for Replication and Expansion (R&E) of High-Quality Charter Schools. There are currently six NISN schools that serve families from 50 tribes and 18 ethnicities.
NISN schools are helping students learn about themselves and making powerful connections to their past and future. High school student Andrew shared a poignant example of how attending NACA has helped him reconnect with his Lakota ancestry. He says it has enabled him to come “back to my culture from my family being away from it for at least five generations.”
Please click or tap here to view the National Charter School Resource Center’s recently published case study on NACA.