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WCSD aims to build trust with Native families and develop mentorship and outreach programs

Two women are sitting at a desk with microphones pointed toward them. The women on the right is speaking while the one on the left looks at her.
WCSD Board Meetings Via YouTube
Fawn Hunter (right) and Denise Miles present to the WCSD Board of Trustees about their work in the district’s Native American Culture and Education Program on May 23, 2023, in Reno, Nev.

At Tuesday afternoon’s Washoe County School District Board of Trustees meeting, members heard a presentation about its programs for Native American students.

The presentation gave the trustees an overview of the district’s programs for Native American students and to understand what challenges they face.

The district receives federal funding to meet the unique academic and cultural needs of its Native students who have filled out an eligibility form proving their tribal ancestry. Just under 900 students receive those services, but there are about 1,500 other students who self-identify as Native in the district who have not turned in the eligibility form.

The reason for that gap: a lack of trust in the district and connection with it stemming from historical trauma around the boarding school system, according to Indian Education Program specialist Fawn Hunter. Hunter and her staff are trying to rebuild trust between Native parents and their schools.

“We’re trying to bridge that gap and be there to support them, introduce them to the administration in the building,” she said. “Get that relationship built so that way they feel more comfortable, but that’s kind of our role where we’re trying to build the capacity of the parent but also rebuild those bridges because it still is that historical trauma.”

Outside of lasting distrust, Native students face significant access and academic challenges. District staff shared that transportation and internet access can be barriers to Native students succeeding in school. Also, standardized test scores and graduation rates remain below the district average for Native students.

However, Hunter highlighted some programs that have been successful. The district’s Paiute language classes are expanding to Wooster High School in the upcoming school year and tribal leaders appreciate those efforts. With an additional grant, the district has been able to hire more full-time staff to assist Native students with school and boost mentorship opportunities.

Looking forward, Hunter told the board she wants to continue to increase opportunities for parents and students to interact with the district.

The image included in this story is a screenshot from the Washoe County School District’s Board of Trustees livestreamed meeting on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. Click here to view the recorded video on YouTube.

Jose Davila IV is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Jose Davila IV reports on K-12 education with a focus on Latino students and families in Northern Nevada and the Eastern Sierra. He is also a first-year Report for America corps member. Es bilingüe, su familia es de Puerto Rico, y ama los tostones de su padre más que nada.
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