“The Indian Education Act talks about engaging communities and the development of a holistic P-12 education system,” explains Native American Community Academy Founder and Principal Kara Bobroff. But that was not happening in traditional public schools, and so a group of educators, parents and leaders throughout New Mexico came together to launch a new Native educational environment that integrates personal wellness, cultural identity and academic preparation.
The idea for the Native American Community Academy (NACA) was conceived from discussions by the school district and Native leadership about data from No Child Left Behind testing that showed that Native Americans had the lowest achievement levels of all students, as well as several other concerning indicators.
In addition to improving academic outcomes for Native youth, NACA is focused on developing strong leaders who are secure in their cultural identities, committed to personal wellness and prepared to excel in college and life.
Turning Schools Into Places Of Strength
NACA teachers find ways to integrate culture, language and personal wellness into all subject areas, so that students build a strong cultural identity. Bobroff describes how she often hears “students talk about why learning their own language matters on a personal level.” Students not only learn their language in the context of culture, they are taught all subjects in a culturally relevant way.
For example, one group of teachers incorporated Native gardening techniques into a science class. While learning about water conservation issues in the state, students also discussed the historical and Native use of the plants they were growing in their community garden. They explored relevant literature, wrote oral histories of family recipes that had been passed down for generations and compared present-day diets to those of their ancestors.
Wellness is an important part of NACA’s holistic and integrated curriculum. NACA offers classes and support services in food and nutrition, physical fitness, social-emotional health, overall well-being and connection to community. NACA’s commitment to wellness extends beyond the school walls to the families of students, since the success of children is intertwined with the success and stability of families.
Seeking A Higher Level Of Personalization
Bobroff describes the high level of interest NACA has gained from people all over the world. “It's not uncommon for us to have people visiting from Australia, New Zealand, neighboring states and other parts of New Mexico wanting to learn about our model, asking how we opened the school.”
In talking with NACA parents, Bobroff learned that the “main reason Native families chose the school was because of the high level of personalization and the connection to culture and language.” They also like the focus on rigorous college preparation and community involvement. NACA collaborates with a number of community organizations to provide experiential learning opportunities and to serve as resources for academics or projects.
Bobroff thinks there is an important lesson here. Acknowledging that many communities have not historically viewed the public schools as particularly welcoming, she sees potential to change that status quo. NACA is demonstrating that schools can be turned into places of strength and success for everybody, regardless of economic or cultural background.
To learn more about NACA, visit www.nacaschool.org.