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A new initiative proposed by faculty in the University of New Mexico College of Education that is designed to increase the number of Native American elementary and secondary teachers was recently funded by the ECMC Foundation for a two year total of $416,664. This is one of three new initiatives funded by the ECMC Foundation. Total support for the three initiatives is $1.27 million.

Christine Sims and Glenabah Martinez, associate professor and associate dean, respectively, from the Department of Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies are co-principal investigators on a project titled, “American Indian Education Mentor Program.”

The two-year grant supports a program to recruit and support a cohort of undergraduate Native American students who plan to serve as elementary or secondary teachers in school districts serving significant percentages of Native American children and adolescents.

“Our recruitment target are those students currently in COE who are in their last two years of their teacher preparation program,” Sims said. “The idea is to try to increase the number of Native American people in the field of teacher education because the numbers are so low. The gap is huge; less than 2 percent of Native American teaching personnel in New Mexico as compared to nearly 11 percent of Native American students enrolled in our state public schools.”

The program will also work with tribes, local schools and tribal education departments to identify potential participants. In addition to supporting the cohort of students, the program will help to establish a larger pipeline of young Native Americans interested in exploring teaching as a career.

“Research shows that if you have the presence of someone in the classroom who truly cares about you and also understands your cultural background, and the difficulty in sometimes navigating the western school system, it helps students immensely.” – Associate Dean Glenabah Martinez

According to Sims, many potential students are already employed as instructional assistants in school districts across the state. Many of them hold full time jobs while also supporting their families and don’t always have the luxury to sign up for classes and leave their jobs to finish a degree program. This new program will offer support to these individuals by bringing them together for weekend seminars facilitated by Native faculty, with the goal of helping them finish their degrees and prepare them to take the New Mexico state teaching exam.

“Because they come from the communities in which they would eventually teach, that would really increase the internal capacity of a local community,” Sims said. “In the spirit of the Indian Education Act which the state legislature passed in 2003, we want to contribute to this vision of increasing Native American teachers in New Mexico.”

“Research shows that if you have the presence of someone in the classroom who truly cares about you and also understands your cultural background, and the difficulty in sometimes navigating the western school system, it helps students immensely,” Martinez said. “It’s especially important in a state like New Mexico where indigenous people have had to contend with three sets of colonizers, each emphasizing deculturalization and then assimilation.

“In the current case, it’s been deculturalization and intense Americanization, taking away from the values of indigenous peoples and replacing them with dominant values, for example, how to be more individualistic as opposed to be being more group centered. Those are things we believe indigenous teachers bring to the classroom. Now we aren’t assuming that all indigenous teachers have these values, but with this program we’re working with educators who are already in the field and are strongly committed to their communities.”

The grant is one of three funded by the ECMC Foundation for a total of $1.27 million. The two other grants will help the College of Education to enhance its collaboration with community schools in Albuquerque and support a language diversity and arts integration initiative in an Albuquerque high need elementary school.

The mission of the ECMC Foundation is to “inspire and to facilitate improvements that affect educational outcomes—especially among underserved populations—through evidence-based innovation.” The ECMC Foundation is based in Los Angeles, Calif.