The Big Picture Learning Native American Initiative

Indian education dates back to a a time when all children were identified as gifted and talented. Each child had a skill and ability that would contribute to the health and vitality of the community. Everyone in the community was expected and trained to be a teacher to identify and cultivate these skills and abilities. The elders were entrusted to oversee this sacred act of knowledge being shared. That is our vision for Indian education today. - CHiXapkaid (Dr. Michael Pavel)
Did you know that treaties signed between Native American nations and the United States government state that public schools are responsible for meeting the unique cultural and linguistic needs of their American Indian and Alaska Native students? | Did you know that 92% of American Indian and Alaska Native students attend public schools? | Did you know that education scholars and Native communities agree that Culture-Based Education (CBE), a pedagogy that centers culture and language learning, is current best practices for improving success outcomes for American Indian and Alaska Native students? | Did you know that when culture and language are embedded into student interest-driven learning plans that success outcomes improve? | Did you know that by including indigenous world views in all aspects of your school culture you can enhance and enrich the educational and cultural experience of the entire school community? 
The Big Picture Learning Native American Initiative strives to:
  • Ensure that each BPL network school is prepared to meet the unique cultural and linguistic needs of their American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) students, as guaranteed by the treaties.
  • Decolonize and indigenize Big Picture Learning network schools so that all students may benefit from the wide breadth of cultural knowledge and worldviews of Indigenous peoples.
We are standing now inside the gateway of a new era where the very essence of Indigeneity is being called to lead innovation in the world and in the education of those most precious to us. Those policies, governments and institutions of old times cannot withstand the strength of a revitalization process that serves not only Indigenous peoples but peoples of the world. We choose to be leaders and innovators for the best possible future for our children and the planet. - Cultural Competency Report, published March 31, 2012
The Big Picture Learning Native American Initiative provides coaching in the following areas:
INDIAN EDUCATION 101 - Professional Development curriculum to help school staff, administration, and advisors understand the historical context that Native American students and families come from so that they may better serve their needs. Topics may include: pre-contact methodologies, treaties, the boarding school era, historical trauma, sovereignty, self-determination, community control of Indian education, and current best practices for supporting AIAN students in the classroom and beyond.
COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND PARTNERSHIP DEVELOPMENT - Identify and reach out to local Native American tribes, community organizations, and cultural ambassadors with the intent to build lasting partnerships between the school and local Indian communities. These partnerships often lead to health and wellness supports, special guests, internships, and other leaving-to-learn opportunities.
INDIGENIZING YOUR SCHOOL - Assess and support the 'indigenizing' of your curriculum, libraries, and physical spaces. Depending on the needs of each individual school and classroom, we can recommend teaching resources that offer Indigenous ways of understanding the world across all disciplines; including STEAM, language arts, history, health, and physical education. We will also explore how including Indigenous worldviews and ways of understanding the world benefits all students.
STUDENT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT - Identify and support students interested in exploring Native American and Alaska Native history, culture and language. Most commonly, students have chosen to start a student group or 'Native American Alliance,' which we carefully scaffold and offer adult support throughout to ensure success.  
With support from BPL's Native American Initiative and local Reno Indian community member Ray Valdez (Yaqui), Innovations High School student Sierra Loebig (Navajo/European descent) is busy readying for the very first Native Student Alliance (NSA) meeting to be held in early 2017. Sierra has opened this group to all Innovations students, both Native and non-Native alike, providing all participants a unique opportunity to explore American Indian history, culture and language.
The student group is modeled after Highline Big Picture School's hugely popular student-led and adult-supported NSA, which from 2009 through 2013 regularly hosted over 25 students on a weekly basis. Sierra and other youth organizers hope that -- just as with Highline -- Innovations students will be inspired to learn more about American Indian and Alaska Native peoples outside of NSA meetings and choose to include culture-based learning in their individual learning plans, as well as seek out internships with local Indian community members and businesses. 
To find out more about how the Big Picture Learning Native American Initiative can improve success outcomes for your students, contact BPL School Design Coach Holly Maeder Sheehan at