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North Dakota Indian Education Summit held in Bismarck

Sharon Teeples

More than 150 educators are attending the 9th annual Indian Education Summit in Bismarck.

State school superintendent Kirsten Baesler said the idea for the Summit came after she first looked at the state’s high school graduation rates. She said while the overall rate was at 90 percent, for Native American students, it was 50 percent or less. And Baesler said it wasn’t just an issue with tribal schools – it was also an issue with larger population schools.

"And I thought, 'What are we doing that is not serving these students well?" Baesler said in an interview. She said after that, she talked with colleagues in other states.

""Teaching Native American students has to be done a little differently," Baesler said. She said she found that students that have teachers who look like them do better – and where culturally relevant materials are presented in the classroom, especially when the students are learning to read, they tend to do better.

"Fast forward to a decade later, and Native American graduation rates — prior to the pandemic — were higher than our overall average," Baesler said. "Even on the last NAPE test, we saw, while the entire nation declined on reading scores, our Native American 4th grade students' scores went up."

Baesler said when the pandemic hit, and some classes went virtual, scores dropped – and she said it underscores the importance of person-to-person contact.

"Learning is a human exchange," Baesler said. "It's rooted in human relationships. Although the Internet, Zoom and Teams were good substitutes when it was absolutely necessary, there's nothing like being able to read the body language of your student, and know exactly what they need, and be able to deliver it right away."

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