American Indian Teaching Program receives $1.2 million grant

The Graduate School of Education at Portland State received a $1.2 million grant in late September for its American Indian Teaching Program by the Office of Indian Education, a part of the U.S. Department of Education.

The AITP aids American Indian students in obtaining their teaching licenses and master’s degrees.

“Through our professional development seminars, we make sure to emphasize culturally responsive teaching. We provide them more methodology about how to create a culturally responsive classroom for Native and non-Native children,” said Micki Caskey, associate dean and principal grant investigator for the AITP.

The grant is similar to one the AITP received in 2010 from the Office of Indian Education to kick-start the program. Maria Tenorio, project director for the program, said it successfully produced 12 American Indian teachers over the course of four years.

“Our focus will continue to be the same, but we’ll tweak it a bit. We were just getting started during our first grant cycle. We prioritize community based education,” Tenorio said.

According to Dr. Randy Hitz, dean of the Graduate School of Education, the program got its start through the efforts of professor Cornel Pewewardy, director of Indigenous Nations Studies, who worked with Caskey to get the first grant in 2010.

“AITP has wonderful faculty that truly know about opportunity and how to speak about PSU’s great programs,” Hitz said. “The impact that teachers have is incredible. Every day they have the potential to change lives. It is such a great opportunity to have more Native individuals be role models for students.”

Tenorio said she hopes the program inspires students to become active members of their communities.

“Hopefully we’ve stoked in them not only the initiative and the interest in developing this as a career path, but we have fostered in them a sense of responsibility of returning to the community. One of the ways we can do that is by continuing to learn. We need younger Native teachers to start teaching at the college level,” Tenorio said.

With the grant, AITP hopes to send five students per year through the program over the span of three years. Students must be a member of a tribe to participate in the program.

Students in AITP receive funding toward their tuition and sign a payback agreement in return.

“That agreement entails teaching one year in a school that serves Native students and their tuition debt is forgiven. It’s a very attractive program,” Caskey said.

According to Tenorio, the program is the only of its kind in the west side of the country and one of only five nationally funded programs. She mentioned a lack of programs in the country tailored for underrepresented populations.

“The American education system, as it is, is not built for children of color. It is a framework for mainstream society,” said Tenorio, who noted that in many cases, Native children in the U.S. are discouraged from pursuing education from an early age.

Caskey and Tenorio discussed the national history that warrants the grant funding AITP has received.

“This has been established by treaty rights. Hundreds of years ago as the dominant white culture overtook a lot of Native lands, there were treaties that were signed. Among these treaties was entitlement to education. This [grant] honors the treaty rights of the Native people,” Caskey said.

“Because there are so few Native teachers in the U.S., we want them to go to one another for resources and support. Now that we have this group of twelve educators out there, we want to create their career pathways toward doctoral studies because we need more researchers,” Tenorio said.

Caskey continued by emphasizing a focus on preparing Native educators for careers within their communities.
“The need [for Native educators] has been established for a long time,” Caskey said. “There are very few teachers of Native Heritage, very few Indigenous teachers in Oregon or in the U.S. We’re responding to a need.”