Last week I attended the second day of the 2017 Arizona Indian Education Stakeholders Summit, held at the We-Ko-Pa Resort and Conference Center on the Fort McDowell Yavapai Reservation. The conference brought together educators, administrators, curriculum specialists, and career and technical education (CTE) specialists. It’s clear that in order to effectively empower tribal libraries, which support both formal and informal education activities, we need to be in the know with what’s going on in the education sector and identify our similar goals and challenges. The Library Development department of the State Library of Arizona will need to partner with as many community stakeholders as possible to support digital inclusion activities that are sustainable and effective.
Arizona ranks 48th in the nation in per capita spending on K-12 and has a lower per capita GDP than the US average. In 2015, Arizona had a bachelor’s degree attainment rate of 27%. With a workforce with a heavy reliance on volatile markets (e.g. mining) and jobs requiring no formal education being at the biggest risk of job loss due to automation, supporting the workforce is critical for ensuring economic well being for Arizona and for the 21 sovereign nations in the state. The talks addressed this in various ways, and while there was a lot of mention of STEM programs, no one seemed to be discussing the digital divide. Some of the themes I heard:
- There is a critical need for professional development and support for teachers, but due to most of the already limited funding being allocated to meeting the basic needs of the school, this is not a priority. This is similar to what we see in rural and tribal libraries, where library staff could benefit greatly from continuing education programs and resources, but are not always able to take advantage of these opportunities because of the existing workload of running the library as a one-person shop.
- Tribes in Arizona are targeting workforce development. The CTE delivery method which balances classroom instruction, hands-on instruction, leadership development, and career experience, has been shown to have profoundly positive effects on graduation rates and subject test scores. Outside of school, career and workforce development programs are recognizing the need to train young people in soft skills development (e.g. showing up to work on time, proper communication with supervisors, etc.) in addition to placing students in internships to gain experience in the workplace.
- Mentorship is key, especially in communities heavily impacted by socioeconomic issues. One education specialist emphasized the need to start introducing workforce language early on, to provide exposure to as many different job positions as possible, and to start discussions about attending college early in high school careers. All presenters spoke to the complex circumstances Native youth must overcome, and expressed concern that kids are not often aware of the social support services available to them or of career and education opportunities they can pursue.