MA aims to teach Native American heritage, improve mental health
Monday, October 9, 2023
Advocates for Native American students in Massachusetts are working to improve high school graduation rates by improving students' mental health.
A hearing is coming up Wednesday on legislation to create a commission to ensure students can learn their cultural heritage and histories, while creating more welcoming school environments.
Jean-Luc Pierite, board president of the North American Indian Center of Boston, said unfair disciplinary practices and the continued use of native mascots all contribute to higher dropout and suicide rates for Native American students.
"These are things we're really focused on trying to address as a community," Pierite explained. "We hope that the commission itself will provide a mechanism for community input."
Pierite noted the goal is to get students to graduation safe, healthy and alive. Currently, about 80% of Native American students complete high school in Massachusetts. This week's hearing on the bill is in the Joint Committee on Education.
While some state legislatures attempt to ban or limit teaching race relations and history, some Massachusetts lawmakers believe it's vital to a well-rounded education.
Rep. Samantha Montaño, D-Suffolk, said it is a priority for many of her constituents.
"I think that in Massachusetts, we're doing a really good job providing a full scope of history and full scope of cultural attainment," Montaño contended. "And making sure that all students are succeeding."
Success includes moving onto some form of higher education or job opportunity. Montaño added while lawmakers may disagree on specific language in the bill, there is strong support for ensuring Native American students see themselves and their histories welcomed in school.
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