January 18, 2014

Educators across America are grappling with the achievement gap of American Indian students in academic test scores and school completion. For example, nationwide, the high-school graduation rate for Native American students is a dismal 51 percent. Unfortunately, for every college graduate in Indian Country, there is a student who dropped out of high school.

The problem is not a lack of desire to attend college. The most recent high-school graduation report published by the National Indian Education Association indicates that 84 percent of female Native graduating seniors and 67 percent of males applied to college within two years of completing high school. But, only 10 percent of females and 14 percent of males who took the 2011 ACT met or surpassed the college-readiness score in all four subjects (English, mathematics, reading, science). This raises the question of the adequacy of educational preparation Native students receive.

Research points to a significant positive correlation between education levels and the general well-being of communities. Only 13 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives age 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. There aren’t many jobs on the reservations for college graduates to come back to, so they often seek employment and live outside their home community. What happens with the other 87 percent who do not complete college? 

For better or for worse, those are the individuals who make up the population that is simply surviving, rather than thriving, on the reservation. Today, Indian Country is synonymous with poverty and unemployment. In the four states currently served by First People’s Center for Education, poverty rates for Native Americans are more than twice those of the general population. Many of these individuals are not concerned about what they can do for their people, but what their people can do for them. They risk the perils of unemployment and poverty on the reservation in order to maintain and benefit from strong familial ties.

Given the fierce competition for jobs on the reservation, the reality is that those who live in the community often end up as decision makers and leaders, regardless of qualifications. Most of these decision makers have the best intentions at heart, but often they lack the educational foundations necessary to make informed decisions. 

Solution and Approach

Little will change until Native people receive culturally relevant and effective education.  First People’s Center for Education (FPCFE) aims for system-wide community change through a comprehensive mathematics and literacy approach in the school. While many educators focus on secondary and post-secondary solutions, FPCFE helps elementary school teachers and administrators level the playing field early on for Native American students.

Linda Darling-Hammond, Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University, points out that teacher quality has six times greater impact on student learning than all other factors combined. FPCFE currently works with tribal schools in Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, and Washington to inspire and educate elementary teachers to successfully teach mathematics and literacy to students who are disadvantaged by circumstance.

FPCFE pioneered an innovative partnership model that encompasses exacting instructional strategies for lasting student success. By ensuring that all stakeholders in a child’s education are knowledgeable and actively involved, we create a community-wide system that provides and reinforces effective and meaningful instruction.

Our systemic approach addresses the following components:

  • School/Community vision and leadership
  • Comprehensive and coherent curriculum
  • Accessibility for all students and classrooms
  • Teaching grounded in research and best practices
  • Appropriate and meaningful assessment
  • Parent and community awareness and engagement
  • Sustained professional development

We are not a “one-and-done” professional development organization. FPCFE provides industry-leading professional development and makes it stick with on-site coaching, support, and data-driven decision making.  Because of our long-term, intensive relationships with school administrators and teachers, we fill a niche that is not profitable for private enterprise, and we reach exponentially more teachers and students than we would by simply operating our own model school. 

Recent News

Educators across America are grappling with the achievement gap of American Indian students in academic test scores and school completion. For example, nationwide, the high-school graduation rate for Native American students is a dismal 51 percent. Unfortunately, for every college graduate in Indian Country, there is a student who dropped out of high school. The […]

          Executive Director Charitina Fritzler and Founder and Board President Craig Dougherty announced that The National American Indian, Alaskan & Hawaiian Educational Development Center is now First People’s Center for Education (FPCFE). Officially established as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 2004, the center, based in Sheridan Wyoming, began working with experts […]

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Wyola School (Wyola, Montana), Wyoming Indian Elementary and Wyoming Indian Middle School (Ethete, Wyoming), St. Labre Middle School Academy (Ashland, Montana) and the newest FPCFE Strength in Number Leadership group were honored to have Dr. Bob Wright provide an overview of his newest publication, Developing Number Knowledge and extend their knowledge of topics, such as Addition […]

Sheridan Wyoming philanthropist Neltje, with business partner and Native American advocate Butch Jellis, recently donated 4 acres on the Wrench Ranch in north Sheridan, Wyoming to FPCFE.  Plans are to build a National Headquarters for the educational non-profit to continue to provide professional development support to schools serving indigenous students across the U.S. Neltje announced how happy she was to give land back to the Native Americans to use for building their future. FPCFE Executive Director Charitina Fritzler added, “Today is a good day.  No longer is educational equality a dream for our children.”    Eagles soared above while students sang ancient Crow lullabies. Traditionally dressed dancers performed, while drummers added a powerful musical component. A Crow elder spoke in appreciation of the donation and the efforts of FPCFE, while another elder offered smoking sweet grass through the crowd, allowing those attending to “smudge” and be included in the thankful atmosphere. FPCFE Board President Craig Dougherty enthusiastically stated, “We will chart our own path to success. Native Americans have been waiting for 150 years for an education system that views their children as creative, gifted and brilliant.” Butch Jellis stated emphatically, “Sheridan will be not only a point of destination, but worldwide, it will be a point of observation.” The projected date for breaking ground is 2014.