A group of about 20 Native American students from Zuni (N.M.) High School spent a day at the University of New Mexico recently and got a feel for higher education in the process. The purpose of the field trip was to enhance the educational attainment of children in the Zuni Public School District (ZPSD) by focusing on higher education.

The grant project, titled “Zuni: Engaging Teachers and Community (ZETAC)” is a collaboration between UNM’s College of Education that involves working with the Zuni Public School District (ZPSD) to support teacher preparation and professional development and is part of a $596,000 grant provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to UNM last year.

Debra Baxter and Dawn Eriacho are two school counselors at ZHS who chaperoned the students. “We are visiting colleges around the state, and giving our juniors and seniors campus tours to expose them to different post-secondary opportunities,” Baxter said. “We’re located in a very rural part of the state. With a UNM branch in Zuni, it helps to promote further education, which hasn’t always been real dominant on the Zuni reservation. We’re getting more and more notice. We’re seeing more of our students at the institutions we visit.”

One of the students Baxter talks about is Zuni-native Sarah Kostelecky, a faculty librarian for UNM’s Indigenous Nations Library Program since 2012. Kostelecky got involved in the ZETAC grant project through Hayes Lewis, who is the superintendent at the ZPSD. His daughter was one of Kostelecky’s best friends.

“He asked me if I wanted to serve on the advisory board when the project was announced last year,” Kostelecky said. “I was excited to serve, and talk to students about the various programs and opportunities, and to look for ways to support students. I grew up in Zuni and went to school there. UNM has a branch at Zuni. It gives me an opportunity to get closer to home through my outreach work.”

Students from Zuni High School are all smiles after a meal at UNM's La Posada. The students visited the UNM campus recently to learn about higher education opportunities for Native American students. Photo credit: Steve Carr

Professional development and recruitment of teachers in Zuni is the key to empowering a community of learners in the northwestern New Mexico pueblo. “One of the major goals of the grant is to recruit students from Zuni to come to UNM to become teachers, and then return to Zuni to teach students there,” said Associate Professor Marjori Krebs, Teacher Education, UNM CoE and coordinator of the grant. “Educational assistants are recruited to complete their bachelor’s degree, while those teachers with bachelor’s degrees are recruited to get master’s degrees. We’re supporting Native American students specifically.”

After a conversation at Travelstead Hall at the CoE and lunch at La Posada, the faculty, staff and students were led on a campus tour by student volunteers from the admissions office. Stops along the way included the Indigenous Nations Library Area in Zimmerman, the SUB, classrooms in Mitchell Hall and of course the Duck Pond. As part of the trip, students received information from American Indian Student Services specifically geared to Native American students regarding from AISS on admissions, financial aid and scholarships.

Providing opportunities for students from Zuni to visit the campus and to learn of all the opportunities available at the University of New Mexico, enables them to see their dreams unfold. The funds from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation have provided this opportunity for students from Zuni, Krebs added.