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American Indian educators aim to improve education

A new state law aims to improve American Indian education by increasing the number of educators on an advisory council to the N.C. General Assembly.

The law, signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Oct. 29, added three K-12 educators to the State Advisory Council on Indian Education. Two new members will also be appointed by the UNC-system Board of Governors and the State Board of Community Colleges, and the number of parents of American Indian students will be reduced from eight to five. 

At a signing ceremony at UNC-Pembroke — North Carolina’s historically American Indian university — McCrory said Senate Bill 97 demonstrates the state's commitment to the education of all North Carolinians. 

“I am proud to sign this bill that makes important changes to the advisory council which has been a steadfast champion for American Indian students in our state," he said in a press release. 

The Council's chairperson, Kamiyo Lanning, said they actively pushed for the change in its membership makeup.

“Because there has been such a huge change in education with standards, with testing, it warranted a change,” Lanning said. “It’s important that educators could come and help advise how to help close a lot of learning gaps that we have.”

Just 26.4 percent of American Indian students from third through eighth grade scored at or above Level 3 in language arts and mathematics on the North Carolina End-of-Grade Tests in 2014 — far below the state average of 44 percent. 

“The biggest challenge is actually getting our students to pass to higher education,” Lanning said. “We need to figure out retention and dropout rates because right now American Indians have the highest dropout rates in the state of North Carolina.”

The American Indian high school dropout rate was 3.6 percent in 2014, while the state average was 2.3 percent.

Dr. Robin Cummings is the chancellor of UNC-Pembroke and a member of the Lumbee tribe. He said the bill will help the council effectively address the unique challenges facing American Indian students.

“In North Carolina, we have the largest population of American Indians of any state east of the Mississippi,” Cummings said. “The American Indians in North Carolina, like many minorities, have certain cultural distinctions and characteristics. It’s important that those be taken into consideration when you’re teaching the kids.”

Elizabeth Qua Lynch, the native student engagement coordinator at the UNC American Indian Center, said the addition of members from higher education to the advisory council will help prepare students for college.

“I think that (addition) is very vital,” Lynch said. “I think that’s a force that may have been missing and that it’s great that it’s being included. We can offer ideas on how we can better prepare students for college and we can devote better programs to better facilitate and meet their needs.”

Cummings said he hopes the state continues to prioritize issues of American Indian education.

“There’s still a lot of room. The American Indian kids still lag behind their white counterparts in some significant ways in significant areas," he said. “I think (the state) has made good progress, and I believe the change in the board composure composition will move that needle even further in a positive direction.”

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