Indigenous youth who participated in Native SOAR’s We are Land Protectors robotics event in April 2022. Photo courtesy Native SOAR
Some people go through life without ever having a mentor, but the Native SOAR program is working to change that for Indigenous students — whether they’re in kindergarten or doctoral students.
“It’s a recruitment, mentoring and professional development hub that serves our Indigenous students, all the way from kindergarten to graduate students, as well as Arizona educators,” said Native SOAR Director Amanda Cheromiah.
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Native SOAR (Student Outreach Access and Resiliency) is a University of Arizona program providing multigenerational mentoring that is culturally grounded in Indigenous teachings and ways of knowing.
“We center the needs of Indigenous students and provide highly engaging and effective programming for Indigenous students, families and educators at no cost,” the program’s website says.
Before the pandemic hit in 2020, Cheromiah said they were serving about four schools in-person, but they had to adjust to online services amid COVID-19. The opened the program up to students from more than 140 schools across the Southwest.
“With the pandemic, we learned that we have the capacity to serve beyond Indigenous students and really get involved with our Arizona educators who serve Indigenous students,” Cheromiah said, adding they launched their teacher mentoring program virtually.
“The pandemic really caused us to think bigger,” she said. Doing so led the program jto expand to providing professional development services in addition to culturally appropriate curriculum.
With the help of a grant from the Arizona Department of Education, the Native SOAR program at the University of Arizona hopes to expand its mentoring program and provide more quality services to Indigenous students and Arizona educators, both in person and online.
On Tuesday, the Arizona Department of Education announced it had awarded two grants to programs that serve Native American students and families in the state.
“In reviewing data from past years, we know that our Native students deserve more targeted support,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman said in a press release.
“My administration is committed to ensuring that Native students have additional holistic resources inside and outside of the classroom,” she added. “These investments reflect that priority, and we are proud to invest in additional resources for Native communities.”
Native SOAR is one of the recipients, along with the Akimel O’Otham Pee Posh Charter School.
Native SOAR was awarded $1.2 million and Akimel O’Otham Pee Posh Charter School was awarded $598,000.
The grant for the Akimel O’Otham Pee Posh Charter School will be used to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on Gila River Indian Community families by providing high-quality books to establish home libraries for all enrolled preschool and kindergarten students, according to the press release.
“The Gila River Indian Community is a book desert,” Jagdish Sharma, Principal of Akimel O’Otham Pee Posh Charter School, said in a press release.
“Our serving area has faced the scarcity of quality published content among Native American homes,” Sharma added. “This funding will help close the learning gap created by the pandemic in our community.”
As part of the grant, Cheromiah said Native SOAR will have two years to spend the funding. She said it will be aimed at closing the digital divide in tribal communities and providing mentoring to both students and teachers.
As part of the program, young Indigenous students receive a tablet, providing them access to technology that often isn’t readily available to them.
“The grant will help us to continue creating healing and innovative spaces to encourage students and communities that they are loved, and they are brilliant leaders,” she said. “We look forward to transforming Indigenous education to better serve our communities in this pandemic era.”
Both the grants were funded from funds made available by the American Rescue Plan and are part of Arizona’s ARP School and Community Grantees, according to the Arizona Department of Education.
All the applications part of the grantee program went through a rigorous state procurement process, and all funded projects share the goal of supporting schools, students, educators and families, the website states.
The department awarded 26 grants in total. For more information on the program, visit www.azed.gov.
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