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After-school program helps Native American students succeed

November 10, 2018
In this Oct. 16, 2018 photo, Julie Middletent, 15, a sophomore at Legacy High School, works on her laptop after school this week, in Bismarck, N.D. Middletent started attending Youthworks after-school program for Native American youth two years ago, and, since then, she's made new friendships and improved her grades. (Tom Stromme /The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Graduation rates for Native American students in North Dakota have lagged behind those of white students by about 20 to 30 percentage points for the past decade.

Eight years ago, a local nonprofit sought to change that by starting a program for Native American students, aimed at boosting their academic performances, while also providing them a safe place to go after school.

Youthworks’ New Direction program has shown great success with Native American students in Bismarck-Mandan.

“We’re really looking to positively impact these young people, and it started because of the graduation rates,” said Mark Heinert, program manager at Youthworks. “But our reality is this: We’re giving young people the opportunity to have a place they feel comfortable in, where they belong.”

The New Direction program serves 40 to 50 students each year. Students come from Bismarck High School, South Central High School, Century High School, Legacy High School and Mandan High School.

For four days a week after school, the students get rides to and from Youthworks, assistance with their homework, help with accessing services in the community and a daily meal, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

There are program mentors, typically Native American college students, who assist students with schoolwork. The program is a component of the Youth Cultural Achievement Program, which was developed in 2008 to reduce the number of Native American youth entering the juvenile justice system.

Students are referred to the program by a parent-family liaison at their school, a school counselor or social worker, a parent or a Youthworks staff member. Students in the program often have had adverse experiences in their lives, such as dealing with family issues, are in residential or foster care or have jumped from one school to the next, often resulting in an unstable education.

The program, funded by Missouri Slope Areawide United Way, has shown positive outcomes. Last year, 78 percent of youth in the program who attended after-school sessions 16 or more times passed their core classes. Seventy-eight percent of students showed academic improvement.

Though the outcomes have been good, the program is more than just providing academic support, said Pauletta Red Willow, coordinator of the Youth Cultural Achievement Program. These students need “constant reinforcement,” she said.

“Especially dealing with the statistics in Bismarck-Mandan for Native youth, like the high rates of juvenile calls for the police, there’s a lot of substance use in our communities,” as well as trauma and loss, Red Willow said.

“It’s about giving them that sense that, you can do this, and building up their esteem,” Heinert said.

For Julie Middletent, a sophomore at Legacy, the program has helped her make new friends, in addition to improving her grades. She switched from Bismarck High to Legacy the first semester of her freshman year, because her mother wanted her to attend the same school as her brother.

She saw her grades improve last year, increasing to As and Bs. She now has more time to get her homework done during the after-school program, and the mentors are helpful.

“I always look forward to coming here, because I get to see everyone from different schools,” the 15-year-old said. “I know everyone here. We’re all friends, almost like family.”

Middletent said she plans to go to college and get a degree in business and become an accountant to help the tribe in which she’s enrolled, the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe.

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, http://www.bismarcktribune.com

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