Skip to main content

Grant strengthens teacher prep program in Native communities

August 24, 2009

An already successful Arizona State University program that enables rural school districts in American Indian communities to “grow their own” elementary and middle school teachers is adding more support services in Chinle and Sells, Ariz., to help local residents achieve bachelor’s degrees and teacher certifications. This expansion of the PDS-TENET (Professional Development School-Teaching Excellence Network through Educational Technology) program is made possible by a three-year, $1.28 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education Indian Education Program.

PDS-TENET, an initiative of ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL), brings high-quality university coursework to future teachers in the Chinle Unified School District in the Navajo Nation and the Sells-based Indian Oasis-Baboquivari United School District in the Tohono O’odham Nation. PDS partnerships also are in place with several high-need urban districts in metropolitan Phoenix and districts in Douglas and San Luis, Ariz.

“Receiving this grant will enable us to make an outstanding program even better,” says Michelle Rojas, project director for the new PDS-TENET-WIN grant (WIN stands for “with Indian Nations”). “Through the WIN component, we can reach out to recruit and support Native American community college students and help ensure they are prepared to enter and succeed in the PDS program.”

The WIN grant will add academic advisors in Chinle and Sells who are familiar with Diné College or Tohono O’odham Community College coursework, transfer agreements and ASU prerequisites. Advisors will work with potential PDS students to ensure they meet PDS program admission requirements. Collaboration with both community colleges will ensure that required prerequisite coursework is offered in the evening, to meet the needs of working adults.

“The grant also enables us to provide support to potential and current students in skill areas such as math, writing, and test-taking,” says Coleen Maldonado, project evaluator for the WIN grant. “There are many talented potential teachers who possess strong intellectual capabilities, yet need additional help in boosting their math, writing and/or test-taking skills. Being able to offer tutorial support in these areas will benefit not only potential PDS students but current students who need to pass Arizona’s standardized teacher certification exam before they can receive their teaching certificates.”

Students in the rural PDS program, some of whom work as teacher’s aides in the Chinle and Indian Oasis-Baboquivari districts, take evening classes at school sites in their communities. Some PDS classes are offered through interactive videoconference technology. PDS also immerses future teachers in the school setting, providing three times the amount of hands-on, practical classroom experience as traditional teacher education programs.

“There is a severe shortage of American Indian teachers in Arizona, especially in elementary school districts with high American Indian enrollment,” says Franklin Elliott, ASU PDS coordinator for the Chinle PDS site. “PDS is playing a critical role in developing outstanding Native teachers to serve as role models for children in our community’s schools. And the program’s format is ideal for adults in rural areas who cannot relocate to a larger metropolitan area to earn their teaching degrees. I view this program as helping to put education back in the hands of the local community.”

“The success of the PDS program to date is an historic achievement for the Chinle Unified School District and ASU, and we are pleased to know that the WIN grant will provide additional support to help students succeed in the program,” says Jesus de la Garza, CUSD superintendent. Seventeen students in the first PDS cohort in Chinle received their ASU elementary education degrees in December 2007.

“Our partnership with the College of Teacher Education and Leadership has truly been mutually beneficial. CTEL is providing comprehensive assistance with regard to instruction, professional development, student and support services, and evaluation,” de la Garza says.

The WIN grant has another important benefit in that it provides students a living wage during student teaching, according to Sonia Saenz, ASU PDS coordinator for the Sells PDS site.

“The two Tohono O’odham teacher’s aides we currently have in our PDS program work two jobs to meet family needs. They will have to stop working when they enter the student teaching period,” Saenz says. “Many Tohono O’odham members cannot afford to stop working completely, and this is a factor that keeps them from furthering their education. The WIN grant provides them with a new stepping stone.”

Eligible participants in the WIN grant program are individuals who are considered to be Native American or American Indian, as defined by their tribal nation. Over the course of the three-year grant, 40 students will receive assistance through PDS-TENET-WIN.

ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership launched the Professional Development School program in Phoenix in 2000. In 2006, PDS was expanded from metropolitan Phoenix to Arizona communities including Chinle, Douglas and Sells. A program was added in San Luis in 2008. PDS already has produced 35 new graduates outside of metro Phoenix, with another 63 students currently enrolled.

CTEL administers teacher preparation programs offered across all four of ASU’s campuses including Downtown Phoenix, Polytechnic, Tempe and West, as well as partner school districts all over Arizona.