8/17/19 Support for Native American students
Support for Native American students
ABSS parent advocates for Title VI
By Jessica Williams, The Times-News 8/17/19
Reprinted with permission.
Crystal Keck wants to support Native American students in the Alamance-Burlington School System.
A member of the Occaneechi-Saponi tribe of Pleasant Grove, Keck grew up attending county schools. She identified as African-American at the time, though she descends from four of the eight recognized North Carolina tribes. Many natives were hiding their identities then. Many still do.
“I ended up having to sue the school system,” she said. “I sued my middle school because I was denied enrollment into the honors society [and] I did win my case because I had the grade point average and the grades and they denied me enrollment and violated my civil rights. I felt if we had some kind of Title VI Indian education going on, that would have never happened. If they did it to me, I’m pretty sure they’ve done it to a whole bunch of other people.”
The Title VI American Indian Education Program is a federally funded program designed to close the achievement gap between Native American students and their peers through classroom support, after-school programs, cultural enrichment and more.
An April 2018 report from the State Advisory Council on Indian Education found Native American students scored an average of 27 percent below white students in all End-of-Grade test subjects in 2016-17. They were also more likely to drop out of high school, with a 2.46 percent dropout rate versus 1.85 percent for white students.
In order for a school system to qualify for Title VI, at least 10 American Indian students must be enrolled.
Between 2012 and 2016, 90 Alamance-Burlington students identified as American Indian. Last year, there were around 79.
Keck has two of her own in the school system.
Her eldest daughter graduated in June, but she has a daughter going into the ninth grade at Eastern Alamance High School and a son going into the seventh grade at Woodlawn Middle School.
To ensure they have the support they need, Keck has formed the ABSS Native American Education Association — a council of 13 parents dedicated to increasing opportunities for native students.
Their first meeting will be 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Pleasant Grove Recreation Center. It’s open to all American Indians impacted by the Alamance-Burlington School System.
Prior to that, Keck will meet with Superintendent Bruce Benson to discuss hiring a Title VI program director. She’s been in contact with Guilford County Schools’ American Indian Education program coordinator, Mia Malesovas, to get an idea of how it all works.
Teaching American Indian culture
Bringing Title VI programming to ABSS wouldn’t only improve test scores for Native American students. It would teach them traditions that have been lost over the years.
For the past year-and-a-half, Keck and her husband, Jason Crazy Bear, have been hosting a once-monthly Alamance County Native American Culture Class to teach the community about musical instruments, crafts, food and other aspects of Native American culture.
Bringing that cultural teaching directly to students in the form of after-school programming would go a long way in preserving that way of life.
It would also benefit nonnative students.
“It’s on my agenda to talk about getting the history books changed,” Keck said. “That’s one thing that I want to see changed is the books actually adding Native American history and then adding a chapter about North Carolina Native Americans because not all natives are the same. When I go to schools and do storytelling with my husband, kids are amazed that there are still Indians and they think you’re either Cherokee or what you see on TV, like a Lakota.”
She’s often asked if she lives in a teepee and rides a horse.
Knowing what the N.C. curriculum teaches about Native Americans, Keck has always tried to be a resource for the schools.
“I would always reach out to [my kids’] history teachers and say, ‘Hey, anytime you guys teach Native American history you be sure and call me because I want to come and help out and tell you the real story because what you guys are saying is not the real story,’” she said.
Eastern Alamance High School social studies teacher Conley Balltzglier is the only teacher she’s seen get it right. In fact, Keck says, she was surprised at how honest he was.
She hopes her work to introduce Title VI will allow Alamance County Native American students to embrace their heritage and share it with others in a way that will benefit the entire community, and maybe open their eyes.
“I want to be able to help give back to the community and I feel we can give back to the community in that way,” Keck said.