Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona joined a roundtable with Native American parents in the Oklahoma City area to listen to their unique experiences in urban schools and learn more about ways the Department can support Native American students regarding language preservation and revitalization.
Following the release of Secretary Cardona’s Raise the Bar: Lead the World initiative for academic excellence and pathways to global leadership, Secretary Cardona stressed that authentic family engagement is critical to achieve those priorities.
"You are experts of your children. You have a very unique perspective. I’ve visited four Indian Nations. What an eye-opening experience it has been for me to learn the passion around ensuring cultural norms and language are still embedded in the next generation,” said Secretary Cardona. “You are your child’s best and most influential teachers. We as educators play their secondary role.”
During the roundtable, parents spoke candidly about the needs of their students, and the need to both encourage language preservation and revitalization and cultural learning while also offering additional mental health support that is culturally sensitive.
“We are losing our native speakers. I recently attended an Indian education summit. It was said we had 130 speakers prior to COVID, but now that’s down to 40. We are in a terrible race against time for language preservation and while we are all sitting around going how are we going to fix it, we are losing it. We don’t have time,” said parent Courtny Yarholar, sharing the importance of language preservation.
"Every school should have a social worker; they are very much needed. We need more mental health support in our community. In our native community, we’ve had a lot of loss. The numbers of family members lost; our kids have lost so many loved ones. The hurt is real, and I am burdened by how much loss we have,” said parent Lucyann Harjo, who emphasized the need for more mental health supports for students.
Secretary Cardona ended the session by saying, “You are saying what parents are feeling across the country. To this day, people are saying schools shouldn’t be dealing with mental health. Say that to a grieving mother. We owe it to our students to do better, to take advantage of the disruption of pandemic and make sure we aren’t building out schools to how they were in 2018. There is more money in education than ever before. How we use it will determine how successful our students are.”