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LAPS board weighs bleak budget for American Indian students

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By Tris DeRoma

A committee tasked with providing recommendations to the Los Alamos School Board to help the district’s American Indian population succeed academically agreed to scale back its efforts in light of decreased state funding.
“There’s a bleak picture out there for the budget and I want to be realistic about that,” School Board President Jenny McCumber told the committee members. “While all of us really appreciate all the work that’s been done, I think we need to look realistically at how much we can afford.”
The the LAPS Title VII Parent Advisory Committee made a presentation to the board Tuesday about some of its findings and what the district could do to help.
Areas discussed included testing results and cultural issues. There are 116 American Indian students in the school system. On the 2016 PARCC math test, American Indians scored a little over 730 in math and reading, similar to how Hispanics in the district did. Other ethnic groups tracked in the study scored higher than Hispanics and Native Americans, with Asians scoring at 780 or above.
A score of 750 or higher means a student “met expectations” for their grade level. Students in grades three through 11 take the yearly test. American Indian students were also assessed with MAPS (Measures of Academic Progress) but correlation with the PARCC tests hasn’t been established yet.
The committee is also looking into cultural differences as a factor in academic performance too. Some American Indians spoke at the meeting about how their children’s culture and values are often put in direct conflict with the district’s curriculum, especially science. Sometimes, they are asked to examine or even dissect animals that are relevant to their culture and religion, which may go against tribal customs and laws. Other times, test questions reference items that have no relevance in their daily lives, making it more difficult to give the right answer.
Student liaisons with the school board sympathized with the American Indians’ plight.
“I don’t know how many gallons it takes to fill up a pool, but I know more or less how many cups it takes to make a batch of tortillas… but that also may be just be me,” High School Liaison Neal DeHerrera said.
However, it was also revealed that as far as assimilation into the school system goes, American Indians are doing just fine.
“One thing we’ve seen is an increase in the number of Native American students that attend Los Alamos Public Schools,” LAPS PAC Chairwoman Karmela Martinez said.  
The committee’s ultimate goal is to establish an office with a full-time coordinator to help in their efforts within the district.