Jeffries, R. B. & Singer, L.C. (2003). Successfully educating urban American Indian students: An alternative school format. Journal of American Indian Education, 42(3), p. 40 – 57.
In Rhonda B. Jeffries and Lyndon C. Singer’s (2003) article, “Successfully Educating Urban American Indian Students: An Alternative School Format, the researchers explore the benefits of an alternative school that serves a significant population of American Indian students. Black Raven High School “was created in 1994 by concerned American Indian professionals, parents and affiliated entities in response to the high academic failure and dropout rate of American Indian high school students in the public school system” (p. 45).
Black Raven High School employed 10 teachers: 3 American Indian, 2 African American and 6 Anglos. Both the principal and assistant principal were American Indian. And, the majority of support staff, tutors and volunteers were also American Indian. The majority of the 9th – 12th grade students between the ages of 14 – 18 identified as American Indian. The American Indian students that enrolled had either already dropped out or were at risk of dropping out. Referrals for student enrollment came from other schools and the students’ families. Student enrollment was limited to 80 students, however, about 70 students would show up on any given day. Class sizes did not exceed 15 students, with the average being 7-8 students. Black Raven’s developed a philosophy of values that promoted “a sense of community, self-esteem, ethnic identity and pride, and an appreciation of all cultures and their relevance in today’s society” (p. 46).
Data were collected through observations and “life history interviews with students, teachers, the administrative assistant, and the principal” (p. 46). The data for this study included perspectives from 1 administrator and 3 students. The case study was centered around one educator “whose use of culturally relevant curricula has made a significant impact on a randomly selected sample of American Indian students’ lives” (p. 46). Data were analyzed through the creation of verbatim transcripts, coding the transcripts to develop thematic frameworks using the constant comparative method, and then recoded for confirm the themes initially established.
The data revealed “significant factors contributing toward American Indian/Alaska Native student success” were “(a) small school size, (b) flexible school formats, (c) governance structures, and (d) culturally responsive teachers” (p. 52). When school size and flexible schedules uncontrollable, the study found that culturally responsive teachers were enough to “create conducive environments” (p. 52).
STRENGTHS & CRITIQUES
I appreciated the researchers desire to examine non-traditional education as it pertains to the education of American Indian students. Much of the research that I have discovered has been focused on traditional educational systems such as public schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools. I think too often researchers are focused on the traditional educational systems’ lack of equity and quality that they are unaware of the assets that do exist within the system.
However, I would like to know if the researchers considered examining a rural alternative school. I would be interested to know if they were able to come up with similar findings. And, if not, what were the reasons for the differences.
I would also like to know the impact this school made in regards to the initial concerns of academic failure and dropout rates. Did the school create an increase in academic achievement and retention to graduation?
My other concern was the small number of participants in this study. Only 1 administrator, 1 teacher and 3 students were included in the case study. I would have liked to read the perspectives of the other administrator, the other 9 teachers, and the other 77 students that made up the school body. Again, I am left to wonder if the researcher limited her data to these 5 individuals because it proved what she wanted to prove.
I would also have liked the data collection to include interviews and perspectives from graduates. How did this school change their lives and lead them to graduation, which they may not have accomplished otherwise?
I would also have liked to see the statistics over the course of its existence that included student enrollment numbers, pre- and post-test scores, and attendance, dropout and graduation rates. I understand that students enjoy the non-traditional approach, but did it have an effect on the data? If not, then what is the point? If so, what other interventions did the school provide for the students to achieve this?
As I read this article, I found myself writing in the margins “I need to do this” or “how can I do this?” I am always looking for ways to improve our program. And, hopefully, this year, with a new staff coming in, we will be able make significant changes. However, I know the scope to which we can make these changes will be limited by administration. But, I will fight for them anyway.
Because I work in an alternative school on the reservation, I was interested in what the study would find. However, these are all things that I think would benefit any student both Natives and non-Natives. Culturally relevant teaching should not only pertain to American Indian culture. It did give me some ideas as to how we may be able to incorporate non-traditional activities into our curriculum. How I am going to this, I am not sure exactly considering I have 7th – 12th grade students in my classroom at the same time and each is working on coursework specific to them. I am interested in the new perspectives that will be coming in that may be able to assist in this process.
I especially appreciated this point that Jeffries and Singer addressed “we must remember that American Indians/Alaskan Natives represent over 200 distinct cultures. What works beautifully on the Navajo Reservation falls flat on the Rosebud Reservation and may be inapplicable in an urban setting representing 60 different cultures” (p. 54). It is critical that researcher and educators keep this in mind. I do not like the generalizations that literature often makes about Native Americans. And, this is precisely why I am only interested in focusing on my tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation. It is the community in which I live and my family is from. It is the community in which my children will attend school.