Char-Koosta News

The Official Publication of the Flathead Nation online

January 28, 2010

Tribal educational advocates help build trust between parents and schools

By Lailani Upham

CSKT Tribal Education Community Development Specialists Dana Hewankorn and Miranda Burland admit they are always ready “to help” when it comes to an education need for students on the Reservation. “Our job is to advocate for parents and students when issues come up in the school district,” Burland said. (Lailani Upham photo)
CSKT Tribal Education Community Development Specialists Dana Hewankorn and Miranda Burland admit they are always ready “to help” when it comes to an education need for students on the Reservation. “Our job is to advocate for parents and students when issues come up in the school district,” Burland said. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — Tribal education specialists Miranda Burland and Dana Hewankorn build a bridge of trust between families and schools to better help students in the public schools, says Kim York, Polson school district family school specialist.

Many families on the Flathead Reservation may be aware of the benefit the Tribal Education team offers to the community; however, many are still unaware to the fact they are there "to help" bring down barriers for Native children in the public school system.

The ladies who wear the hat as community development specialist serve as advocates for families with children that are tribal members or 2nd generation descendents of any federally recognized tribe in grades kindergarten through 12th grade.

St. Ignatius Middle School and High School Counselor, Carrie Stefanatz said, "They are wonderful advocates and a great resource for us and we all work as a partnership together in helping kids get the best education."

The role they serve in the community is as a liaison between the parents, students and schools when an educational issue is at hand. The issue can be at any degree whether minor or major. "We encourage and try to empower the parents when faced with an educational issue that they do not have answers to, or are afraid to ask," said Hewankorn.

"Having another person from the outside that can be a voice is very important in education for children," Stefanatz said.

The ladies attend meetings with schools at parental requests for individualized education plans and 504 plans to discuss and implement a program that works for the student.

An individualized education plan or program is a workable educational program for parents and the school with a goal to meet the child's individual educational need. A meeting is held within 30 calendar days after a child study team determines that he/she qualifies under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and requires special education and related services. The plan is normally reviewed at least annually.

For parents with children in an individualized plan it can be overwhelming and the team is there for the parent(s) whether words are said or not, according to Hewankorn. "Having another person there kind of keeps everyone on track," said Polson parent Mary Charlo-Crumley.

Charlo-Crumley admits to being independent as a parent with a special-needs child in the public school system; however, a time came when she felt she was "at the end of her rope," she said. The presence of Hewankorn in a review team meeting helped keep every thing intact emotionally, she said.

St. Ignatius parent Rose Tellier said Burland has been along her side as a Godsend since her fifth grader began kindergarten. As for her high school student, Tellier said, "She (Burland) goes in there to guide and to listen to her."

The tribal education advocacy team also sits in the Indian Education Committee meetings, also known as the Indian Education Parent Committee meetings throughout the Reservation. The meetings are a way for parents to find out what is happening in the schools, according to the Tribal Education department.

The committees consist of parents who have Native children in the public school system on who are eligible for Johnson O'Malley funding.

The mission of the Johnson O'Malley program is to address cultural needs of American Indian students by providing supplementary financial assistance to each school for specialized educational needs. Johnson-O'Malley funds are not to take the place of federal, state or local funds.

"We are that extra person for an individual or family that may not have had a good relationship with the school or are afraid and are not sure what to do," Hewankorn said.

An education plan is a written document that outlines a plan for providing programs to meet the unique and specialized educational needs of Indian students. It is developed in coordination with the district and the Indian Education Committee. It identifies needs of the Indian students, the goals and objectives to be accomplished, procedures to be followed and the methods to be used in evaluating the program as well as proposed budgets.

"A lot of parents don't realize they are there for every school and that they are there for them," said Mary Charlo-Crumley. "They help from anything in the classroom to bullying and to get over barriers to help kids do the best they can," she added.

CSKT is one of the few tribes to have a community development specialist program implemented within a tribal organization (tribal education), according to Hewankorn.

"I know I'd be lost if the Tribes took them away," Tellier said.

To contact Miranda Burland in Tribal Education call (406) 675-2700, ext. 1074 or Dana Hewankorn at ext. 1070.

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