Families and school districts across Minnesota are thinking about what the next school year may look like for teachers, children and families. The Covid-19 pandemic is forcing districts to consider distance learning with kids doing lessons at home on computers. Reporter Melissa Townsend talked with Native educator Govinda Budrow about lessons learned from distance learning last school year and how it might change for Native students in September.
When schools closed and distance learning started last spring, Govinda Budrow was part of a weekly discussion group with others invested in Native youth education.
“We got to hear a more collective response about what the struggle was and how to navigate it, by bringing together the collective wisdom of voices from around the state,” said Budrow.
Budrow has served in Indian education for nearly 20 years. As a tribal school teacher, an instructor at the Found du lac Tribal and Community College and with the Dream Catcher Project with the state of Minnesota Department of Education.
The Dream Catcher project trains school employees in 30 school districts around the state to include cultural perspectives in decision making for Native students.
“To make sure Native children are understood in the special education process so what is differences or disadvantages is not being viewed as disability,” Budrow said.
The small group, who met on their computers and their phones, compared notes on what they were hearing and seeing from Native families in their schools. She says they realized many Native families were leaving urban school districts. Maybe because of job loss, maybe to be closer to family – or maybe for both reasons – families were leaving metro areas and returning to their tribal communities. In the process they were doubling up with grandparents and other family members or couch hopping, which means they are homeless in the eyes of the school district. And in that situation, Budrow says, families have rights.
“They have rights to be able to maintain access to education in the midsts of all that, maintain access to the people that they had always been educated by before,” Budrow said.
If an Anishinaabe family moves from Minneapolis to Red Lake, they can enroll in the new school district. But if they don’t enroll, the Minneapolis school district is still responsible for providing real, quality distance learning for that student. But it seemed many families were not telling the school district about their situation.
“It becomes very secretive because there is a fear of losing our children if we allow people to know what we are struggling with during this time,” said Budrow.
The state has a long track record of taking Native children from their families. But keeping this personal struggle a secret and taking students away from positive school relationships they have, can have a devastating impact.
“The shouldn’t have to lose everything. And the effect of losing everything in that process are really detrimental educationally, socially, emotionally, spirituality. I triggers a lot within children so it’s an ability to keep them connected and it’s federally mandated that they have that access and not lose everything because of their homelessness,” Budrow said.
For students who stayed in their homes and their home school district, there were different communication issues between families and schools. At first, the state mandated that each of the children’s teachers should make daily contact.
“That meant families who had 3, 4 children, especially if you had children who had multiple teachers or had disabilities and had multiple special education teachers, you were navigating all of these people trying to talk to you and your child everyday,” said Budrow.
Govinda Budrow says many families told her and her colleagues that that did not work for them.
“The feedback from most families was – I can’t do all of that and it’s not constructive to our time.”
Budrow says no one has ever had to do this before – figure out distance larding in a pandemic. She says last year we were all thrown into this situation, whether it was on the computer or with big packets of worksheets coming home. But this year — we might be able to think ahead. For Minnesota Native News, I’m Melissa Townsend.