Wampanoag parents group: Mashpee schools fall short of supporting, educating Native American students

Editor's note: The following is an editorial submitted to CapeCodToday.com by the Native American Parent Education Committee.

Parents report being "glad handed" while students flounder

Town graduation rates significantly below statewide average

Mashpee - "The Land of the Wampanoag" - is failing the children of its namesake -- and many of its other children as well.

With the lowest graduation rate on the Cape - according to state data, Mashpee graduated 77.8% of its class of 2011 cohort - many students clearly get left behind. For Native American students, the picture looks even sadder with a graduation rate of just 63.6 percent. 

In comparison, the statewide graduation rate for 2011 was 83.4 percent. No other Cape district fell below 80% and most saw an 85 to 95 percent graduation rate.

Mashpee High School should be embarrassed and all Mashpee parents should ask the question: why? Mashpee and Wampanoag students are bright and capable - so what is going on?

As members of the Native American Parent Education Committee, tasked with providing feedback and input into Native American education within Mashpee, we find these statistics disturbing and we are actively asking these very questions.

The statistics become even more disturbing when we hear time and again parent concerns and observations of gaps in their children's education. Parents have shared with us their frustration as they try to find help for an academically struggling child. Among us, we have firsthand-experience of the brick wall many parents hit at the high school, and the discouraging words staff have for our children and their potential.

All parents, of all backgrounds, want their students to learn and develop the skills they need to succeed in school and in life!

"...the experiences of the Mashpee students is part and parcel of a negative national trend as it relates to students of color, particularly males, and the attitudes held towards them by schools and school systems."

Unfortunately, the experiences of the Mashpee students is part and parcel of a negative national trend as it relates to students of color, particularly males, and the attitudes held towards them by schools and school systems. Despite parents best efforts to be involved in their children's education, there remains a curious block on the part of the school system; whereby parents are glad handed around while their students flounder.

We know that not all parents are comfortable advocating for their child at the high school and end up feeling as if the school simply marginalizes their concerns. In fact, some of our Native American parents say that the way the school treats them and their children brings back memories of their own school days - where the Wampanoag heritage was discounted and many teachers did not encourage an academic path for Wampanoag students. To see these same patterns in place today - especially when combined with such a low graduation rate - raises all kinds of red flags.

An overall absurdity and lack of coordination seems to reign. For example, this Spring, two Native students who were struggling in math were pulled out of the Math Lab class that supports struggling math students in favor of MCAS tutoring. Apparently, the school viewed extra support as an either/or option: MCAS tutoring or math lab. The decision, which was not discussed with the families, opted to pull effective class support out from under the students. We don't know how the MCAS scores fared, but we do know that the students did not receive a passing math class grade.

But wait, there's more! This issue becomes more disturbing yet again when you learn the school district receives a $50,000 federal grant, specifically targeted to improve academic performance of Native American children through culturally relevant means.

But, this year's grant period came and went with little evidence of this effort. Even at a most simple basic level, the Tribal Scholar-approved list of Native books could easily be incorporated into the larger summer reading program, but even this has yet to happen.

Only recently did the district begin advertising for a Program Coordinator for the project for next year's grant period. The Parent Committee assisted the school district in developing and planning the cultural and educational activities for the grant.  We hope that during the next school year kids will see benefits from these federal dollars.

They [the school committee] must listen to parents - to all parents, regardless of income or ethnicity.

The funds will pay for educational/cultural activities for the schools, including teacher training on ways the Wampanoag culture shapes the responses and interactions they see in Native American students - but Mashpee has yet to develop or deliver this training to its staff. This training would take a first healthy step toward better understanding of Wampanoag culture, which could lead to better educational practices with all students.

For example, in traditional school culture, long hair is sometimes equated with "slackers" or underperformance. However, the Native American cultural significance of long hair (usually worn in braids) lies in the belief that all Native people (both boys and girls) are born warriors. They keep their hair long and wear it in honor of life, and as a sign of strength.  As they grow older their hair grows longer.  They honor their traditions and their journey through life.  When they experience emotional pain and strife, they sacrifice a part of their physical being (their hair) and cut a little off as part of a sacred cleansing ceremony (to rid themselves of negative energies).

We want to see all students in Mashpee succeed! To do this, the school committee must take a hard look at what its reported numbers show. They must listen to parents - to all parents, regardless of income or ethnicity.

As parents, we care deeply about our schools and our students. As community members we know the critical role schools play in shaping our shared future. We call on the Mashpee School Committee to open its eyes and work together across the community to create a school whose practice, policies, and environment help all students thrive.

The Native American Education Parent Committee

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