Monday, May 2, 2011

A Learning Community Model for Native American College Students

Anyone who has read some of my past posts, like HERE and HERE, should understand that Native American students have very high dropout rates throughout all levels of educational systems. If I could boil all the possible reasons why this is the case, I would have to state that America’s educational design/environment does not match the way Native American’s learn.  Past posts have speculated, like HERE and HERE, about certain classroom and policy conditions resulting in high dropouts, but the bottom line is that more Native Americans dropout of college than stay.

It’s easy reviewing the literature and writing about all of the problems of high Native American dropout rates. Goodness knows I have the posts to prove it! What’s more challenging is figuring out what to do about it. Just because someone identifies a problem does not mean that person can produce a solution! Now that the previous statement frees me from the responsibility of solving this enduring problem, I do have problem-solving ideas.

I was recently asked to consult with a group of UB students who plan to travel to West Virginia during a summer project. The students will work in a community that could use some help such as light construction, working with children, etc. The students could also be working with a diverse population, more specifically Native Americans. This project originates out of UB’s Undergraduate Academies. There are many different, worthy projects happening in the Undergraduate Academies, one of which is a Learning Community. They provide UB undergraduates with community peer assistance, first year student housing, and shared interest housing. All of these activities indicates UB’s attempt at creating a Learning Community model.

History and Evaluation of University Learning Community Models

The idea of connecting and integrating student learning with student living began to take shape under Alexander Meiklejohn. After moving from England to New Jersey at the age of eight, he received his doctorate from Cornell later becoming a philosopher, university administrator, and an advocate for free-speech. He also became a dean of Brown University and Amherst College President. Dr. Meiklejohn developed an Experimental College with the main goal of creating a community that aids teacher-student interaction around a living and learning environment (Lit review on living-learning).

The purpose behind Meiklejohn’s original idea has evolved over the years. In our current college systems, the Learning Community has several different varieties but the theory behind Learning Community models have remained the same. It is believed that students will remain in college and excel if they are given the opportunity to integrate their social and academic lives. When students join together around commonly shared academic and/or social interests, their college experience is much more likely to be positive. Connecting social and academic life using the Learning Community model can consist of many different categories. UB’s model seems to focus on housing specific students together and special assistance.  There could be a number of different Learning Community models. Some of them might consist of:

  • Grouping students who are taking the same course;
  • Grouping students who have common characteristics or interests;
  • Grouping students in a dedicated dorm together with similar activities;
  • Grouping students together with intensive faculty collaborations; or
  • Grouping students together with all of the above offered.
The main goal of a Learning Community is to provide groups of students with specialized academic and social services.  It is important to balance these services between meeting academic standards and ensuring a rich social life while in college.

There are studies explaining and investigating different models HERE. After researching all these different models over many years, it has been determined that regardless of the model’s design, intensity or any other characteristic, Learning Communities have significant influences on a student’s college experiences, grade point average (GPA), and retention. Please let me state these findings another way. Students who became involved with Learning Community programs, even those that are measured as having the least amount of structure and intensity, students increased their GPA scores, had higher retentions rates, and had positive experiences while doing so! 

Developing a Native American Learning Community at UB

I plan to submit a Native American learning Community (NACL) proposal in order that UB students share residence hall space in Red Jacket Residence Hall and are provided social and academic programming.

The NACL is proposing the Red Jacket Residence Hall as this has cultural significance with the Native American community. Red Jacket gets its name from the Seneca Nation Chief who led a peace delegation with George Washington in 1792. Red Jacket’s work and reputation continues to have importance throughout Native American communities. Also, having student programming space in Red Jacket will have a decidedly impact on program success.

Native American Community Learning Program

Faculty led Academics Programming:
Undergraduate NALC Introductory Seminar – Fall
Undergraduate NALC Retention Seminar – Spring
Discovery Seminars – topic-based, 1 credit course per semester
Academic Advising & Support – Ongoing

Faculty & Student led Academics and Social Programming:
Individual and small group meetings – monthly
Cultural events – monthly
Peer Mentor meetings – monthly & as needed
Native American Peoples’ Alliance, Student Association Group & Intercultural and Diversity Center – meets monthly

Faculty led Academics Programming

Each Fall, I will lead a seminar for new students entering NACL. There will also be a Spring seminar that specifically focuses on student retention activities. Research indicates that certain, brief activities significantly improves college retention for minority students. A 1-credit Discovery Seminar will be offered for NALC students each semester. The Discovery Seminar will be part of Undergraduate Academies program. Also, specific faculty will provide NACL students with advising and other social supports. All of these activities will be provided on a monthly and on-going basis by me and other supportive UB faculty.

Faculty & Student led Academics and Social Programming

The NACL enrolled students will meet individually and as small groups in order to support each other both academically and socially. These meetings, although scheduled monthly, will also meet as needed. This space will additionally be used to hold regular cultural events. NACL students and I will provide activities related to preparing specific foods, drumming and singing events, community social events, and cultural teachings. Part of the mission will be to learn and be active in ones own cultural activities as well as learn about other tribal events.  Once the NACL program becomes established, experienced NACL students will engage and mentor other students. These mentoring meeting will be scheduled monthly as well as on a needed basis. The Native American peoples’ Alliance (NAPA) is a UB student association group that meets monthly and promotes Native American school and community events. UB’s Intercultural and Diversity Center is involved with many cultural events on campus. Specifically, they organize the yearly Native Bazaar on campus along with arrange a campus visit for Native American high school students. These groups will join our efforts and hopefully hold meetings in the NALC’s Red Jacket Hall space.

I anticipate a very strong program will be developed for Native American UB students. With the Red Jacket Hall setting and significance along with the support and reputation of the Native American Center for Wellness Research, the NALC program could be a national model for improving the academic successes and experiences of Native American college students. I look forward to being directly involved in shaping and directing the NALC program and hope the new proposal is given careful consideration. It seems the NACL could be a staging ground for many academic and social activities that will increase Native American success at UB. I will keep everyone posted.

Peace, DAP

No comments:

Post a Comment