Project to integrate Indigenous values in education

Many Indigenous students face barriers in the classroom, but the Indigenous Teacher Education Project at the University of Arizona aims to prepare future teachers to create opportunities for students.  

The Indigenous Teacher Education Project (ITEP) “works to increase the number of Native American teachers serving Native American students.” There’s a shortage of native teachers in our schools, Dr. Valerie Shirley, ITEP project director and member of the Diné community, explained.

ITEP is part of The Department of Teaching, Learning, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of Arizona’s College of Education.

It teaches its students the importance of integrating Indigenous knowledge, values and language in their education, and when they teach in Indigenous communities.

Dr. Jeremy Garcia, ITEP project co-director and member of the Hopi-Tewa community, said it is critical to this process to “prepare native teachers for returning to their communities and to be able to both infuse the language, the knowledge of that community, and values of that community.”

He also raised the questions, “What is Indigenous knowledge? What are Indigenous values? What does it mean to prepare them for sustaining their tribal nations?”

ITEP received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education and one of its objectives is to use that opportunity to incorporate STEM as it prepares students of ITEP to become teachers.

ITEP’s new component, Indigenizing STEM Education, addresses the unique challenges and opportunities Indigenous teachers and students face with STEM education.

“There’s an intersection of Indigenous knowledge and STEM education,” Dr. Shirley said. “So, we’re working to conceptualize what that means to prepare teachers to teach science, technology, engineering and math with confidence to grow some of our native students into the field, which would then contribute back to their communities.”

According to Intel: Collaborating to Grow Pathway of Native Americans in STEM, less than half of all Native American students have access to a full range of math and science courses at their high schools.

It also stated only one percent of Native American students enroll in and pass algebra in ninth grade.

Dr. Garcia explained that after conducting research about Indigenous students and STEM when applying for the grant, it “really shed a light on the realities of what it means for us to prepare the teachers to be comfortable with teaching science or math or technology in their own elementary classrooms.”

ITEP has received grants that help it strengthen and expand to prepare its students in the program, but it accepts donations to help support its mission.

“Everything is about supporting [the students] and the project itself,” Dr. Garcia said.

Sierra Ciaramella

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