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A special day for first tribal special education cohort

tribal_cohortIt isn’t Commencement, but Saturday, May 22 is almost as significant a day for the members of the Tribal Special Education Cohort that is a partnership between Augsburg and the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

On that day, the 15 students in the cohort that combines online and face-to-face learning will attend class in the morning at Black Bear Casino near Carlton. In the afternoon, they will celebrate with their families as they will have completed the eligibility requirements in order to apply for their special education teaching license.

While the students will still have four courses to complete to finish their Master of Arts in Education degree, they will be able to apply for special education positions and seek employment for the 2010-11 academic year.

The hope is that after a program that incorporates Native American culture throughout rather than being simply an add on, the students will be better teachers. Susan O’Connor, associate professor of education, said that 70 percent of Native students are labeled with some sort of learning disability.

“Hopefully they’ll be better teachers and they’ll understand students better,” O’Connor said. “Hopefully it will change the number of kids who get labeled because the teachers will be more sensitive to their needs.”

The job market for special education teachers is generally strong, but O’Connor said that these students—nine from Augsburg and six from UMD—should be in demand because of the education that focuses on tribal communities and learning styles.

The program, which is called Naadamaadiwin, or “helping one another,” was unique for Augsburg because of the public-private partnership, because of the model, and because of the background of the students.

Much of the program instruction was done in an online format that was supplemented by about two face-to-face meetings each semester. UMD’s Center for Indigenous Knowledge and Language Revitalization received a grant for $35,000 to pay for mileage, lodging, and food for students and faculty teaching the program. A number of the in-person sessions took place at Grand Casino in Hinkley.

Because of the online component, students live all across Minnesota. There are students from the Twin Cities, but there are also students from McGregor, Bemidji, and Grand Marais. Some of the students are currently teachers or paraprofessionals in schools, but others are employed elsewhere. One student works at a comedy club and another works with children at Fairview.

As they prepare to apply for positions, all of the students now have experience working with native youth after 10 weeks of student teaching.

“They should have a fairly easy time getting a job,” O’Connor said. “The hope is that they will be very valuable.”

Pictured at left is Aquila Tapio ’10 of St. Paul, one of the Tribal Cohort students. Read more about Aquila in the Spring 2010 issue of the Augsburg Now magazine.


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