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Parents who choose this pathway for their children are making a commitment to sustaining their Indigenous language and identity....More than a single curricular change, these are whole-community efforts.

Photo: Arizona State University

Teresa McCarty

T

ERESA MCCARTY is the George F. Kneller Chair in Education and Anthropology at GSE&IS, and faculty in American Indian Studies (AIS) at UCLA. Together with a team of researchers, she has been exploring an innovative instructional approach called Indigenous-language immersion (ILI), in which all or most instruction is in the Indigenous language. The study, titled “Indigenous-Language Immersion and Native American Student Achievement,” is in its third year of a four-year grant from the Spencer Foundation. Co-principal investigators on the study, which is based at UCLA, are UCLA Professor of Social Research Methodology Michael Seltzer, Tiffany Lee, a Diné/Lakota scholar and chair and professor of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, and Sheilah Nicholas, a Hopi scholar and associate professor in the College of Education, University of Arizona. According to McCarty, the rationale for the study is twofold. First is the concern in Native American communities about the loss of Indigenous languages among younger generations. The decline in Indigenous language speakers is a consequence of settler colonialism and English-only policies that have been implemented across generations. Modern education practices generally have not been supportive of bringing children’s community-based experiences and knowledge, including language, into the classroom. “You have a situation of language loss coupled with continued disparities in Native American children’s school experiences,” McCarty explains. “Knowing English alone has not remedied education inequities for Native American students as a group.”

In light of these realities some Native communities have turned to an innovative approach in which all instruction is delivered in the Indigenous language, which children learn as a second language. “While we know of success stories using this approach,” says McCarty, “there is no national database that educators, researchers, parents, and policymakers can look to for information on these programs.” Herein lies the second reason for the study: to develop a national database that is both broad in terms of geographic location, language, and culture, and that looks in depth at specific programs as case studies across the United States. ILI schools emerged in the 1970s and early- to mid-1980s, first established by Mohawk communities in Canada and the northern U.S. and the Māori in Aotearoa/New Zealand, followed by Native Hawaiians and the Navajo Nation in the U.S. Southwest. From these beginnings, many communities across North America have established ILI programs, including summer, after-school, and adult programs. Within the U.S., the research team has identified about 250 ILI programs. Many immersion schools are community-based. For example, says McCarty, one of the very first immersion schools is completely parent-run; the parents built the school facility themselves and many are teachers there. While not all schools are completely community-run, all have high levels of community and parent involvement. “As one teacher told us the first day we visited one of the ILI preschools, ‘This isn’t a place where you bring your child to school and drop them off at eight and pick them up at five,’” says McCarty. “Parents who choose this pathway for

Profile for UCLA Ed&IS

UCLA Ed&IS Magazine Spring 2019  

The UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies’ magazine highlights the public scholarship of our faculty. The cover of this...

UCLA Ed&IS Magazine Spring 2019  

The UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies’ magazine highlights the public scholarship of our faculty. The cover of this...

Profile for uclaedis
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