Culturally Responsive After School Programs for Native American Youth White Paper

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Culturally Responsive Programs

Culturally-Responsive After School Programming

Native American youth are too often overlooked when social workers are crafting programs that reach "at risk" populations. While those programs are generally available to youth in need without regard to ethnicity, Native American youth may have particular challenges and needs that go unmet unless programs are specifically targeted at them. In the state of California, where the second largest population of Native Americans can be found, some innovative after-school and outdoor adventure programs have emerged. These programs were formed with Native Americans specifically in mind as a target population; as a result, they are better able to focus on specific needs and expectations associated with that population. This essay will begin with an overview of the Native American population in California, with particular attention to challenges facing youth. From there, research into the benefits of after-school and outdoor adventure programming will be presented, and finally a few examples of specific programs in California will be profiled.

Native American Youth in California

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When California was still a territory, and then in its early days as a state, the area was overwhelmingly populated by native groups. Hundreds of thousands of Indians were killed during the U.S. takeover of the California territory. Today, there are still over 100 federally-recognized Native American tribes in California. The most populous tribes include: Native Americans live on 107 reservations and Rancherias, as well as within mainstream, diverse but non-Native communities. San Diego County has more Native American Indian reservations than any other county in the nation (Native American Research).

TOPIC: White Paper on Culturally Responsive After School Programs for Native American Youth Assignment

Native American cultures hold high regard for community and the environment. Many tribal religions were poly-theistic, and elaborate ceremonies honored the elements and the way those forces held together individuals, families, and communities. Tribes historically lived in tight-knit quarters, and they followed seasonal rituals that sought to integrate group survival with environmental health over the long-term. Individual gains were secondary to the community. Many Native tribes continue to reside in close-knit quarters, often in government sanctioned reservations, and consider their individual fate to be inextricable from the fate of their family, their community, and their tribe.

However, many tribal communities struggle. Abuse and neglect is common, and rates of alcoholism in tribal communities are notoriously high. Domestic violence, often a companion to alcoholism, is also common. Statistics for these social ills are difficult to determine since many reservations qualify for some autonomy from the U.S. government and are therefore may not be as carefully tracked. Some data is available, mostly through the public school system. Fully 24% of Native American children nation-wide have no adult supervision when their school day ends. Over half of those parents say they would enroll their children in after-school care if such programming were available, but only 16% of Native children attend (Kang, 2010). Lack of funding is the most frequent reason given for the shortage of programming available to kids from all different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Poverty is not a condition reserved for Native American youth. Nearly 37 million people currently live in California; of those, approximately half of the children qualify for free and reduced-price lunch (State Profile). This latter statistic is a common proxy for estimating poverty rates among the young. The state has a Child Care and Development Fund, administered by the California Department of Education, that oversees public school programming including afterschool programs. In 2009, the fund amounted to just over $1 billion. Of that total, approximately $5 million was allocated to Native American tribes. Some of this funding stream can be traced to Proposition 49, passed by California voters in 2002. The After School Education and Safety program that was created through the Proposition required the state to increase annual funding for after school funding, and subsequent legislation both increased the total amount and expanded access. As a result, California has a highly developed and carefully tracked after-school program in place at the state level.

After School and Outdoor Adventure Programming

Communities have found tremendous potential in offering extensive after-school programming for youth at risk. Not only do these programs provide supervision during the dangerous hours after school when many children of working parents are left un-chaperoned, but they also provide an opportunity to improve educational success and enhance connections to the community. Nationwide, more than a quarter of all children come from homes where both parents work, and an additional 27% come from single parent households where their mother (or father) works (Kang 2010). Afterschool care currently reaches approximately 6.5 million children by providing them with 2-3 hours of afterschool support, civic engagement, tutoring, homework help, and activities that support their health and well being (Kang 2010).

Research has shown numerous benefits from the existence of quality programming that reaches diverse youth populations. Among the measurable benefits are a smaller achievement gap in school, greater student responsibility for learning, improved problem-solving, improved time management skills, improved workplace readiness, greater motivation for reluctant learners, reduced behavior problems, and decreased truancy (Wright, 2008). Student in afterschool programs demonstrate behavioral, emotional and cognitive gains (Kang, 2010).

Outdoor and adventure-based programming is another tool used to improve youth outcomes in risky situations. In these settings, students who may grow up in urban centers, are exposed to outdoor recreation, taught leadership skills, and given the opportunity to learn skills such as navigation, route finding, rock climbing, and hiking. Much like more traditional after-school programs, these opportunities create structured environments for students to experience new challenges.

Remarkably, the features of successful youth programming are consistent across time, location, and setting. Successful programs have a variety of enrichment opportunities available, since "for many participants, the after-school project provided their first exposure to new learning opportunities in areas such as dance, music, art, and organized sports," (Birmingham, 2005: i). Other features that are common to successful youth programs include: opportunities for skill building, international relationship-building including conflict resolution skill mastery, and strong leadership.

After school and adventure programs are prolific throughout the country. As parents and educators have seen the nearly universally positive outcomes of these programs, local initiatives have increased funding and programs have flourished. However, most of these programs are created through the public education system and as such do not specifically target one racial group over another. Instead, they seek to provide a welcoming environment for children regardless of background. While this approach may provide inclusivity, it may also, unintentionally, fail to meet the needs of certain groups. Native American tribes in particular have expectations for education that may not be met by mainstream after-school or adventure programming.

Culturally-responsive programming has become something of a buzz-word in social work circles. Minority groups, including Native Americans, latinos, and African-Americans, have long found mainstream childcare approaches to be superficially inclusive but ultimately out of touch with the cultural base of those representative cultural groups. The result is that children may feel pulled between home and school: "the home and school languages and cultures differ so much that the students are forced to choose between them," (Reyhner, 1993). In order to reach Native children without distancing them from their home culture, experts recommend a comprehensive integration of techniques from anthropology, sociology, and history.

New education models that emphasize cultural responsiveness begin with an understanding that "culture determines our understanding of the world, patterns our social interaction, and gives us a set of prejudices about taste, sound, and color," (Reyhner, 1993). These cultural foundations establish world views that may make it easier for some groups to succeed in mainstream public schools while other struggle to make sense of fundamental expectations. By increasing the awareness of educators, culturally diverse children are less likely to be mistaken for dumb or incapable. Similarly, Native children who have poor English language skills will be more appropriately taught.

Examples of Culturally-Responsive Programming

Throughout the country, awareness has grown that one-size-fits-all programs don't meet some of the most important needs of Native American youth at risk. Award-winning programs in other states have provided important guidance for California's programs. One such program worth profiling here is the after-school program in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. There, where administrators were faced with a large native population that suffered from low grades, poor community engagement, and a crumbling community, they skillfully integrated Native cultural elements into the after-school program. For example, "they regularly invite tribal elders to teach students about Native American customs and bring in high school volunteers to mentor younger students. Through the program, students have the opportunity to showcase Native American dances at local ethnic celebrations, and keep tribal traditions alive," (Wright, 2008: 1). This award-winning program has successfully woven in more traditional goals for after-school programs with an emphasis on Native American community pride.

In California, most of the culturally-responsive after school programs have been crafted with a number of needy populations in mind. That is, there are few examples of after-school programs that are targeted solely at the Native population. The state has received an influx of funding in recent years… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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