November 15, 2022
In order to increase the number of Indigenous principals in Native communities and in public schools, a program called POLLEN is meeting teachers halfway by covering many of the costs. (Photo credit University Of New Mexico, POLLEN Program)

New Mexico program helps Indigenous school teachers reach the principal's office

KUNM | By Emma Gibson

News Brief

To have an Indigenous teacher is a rarity in this country – they account for only 1% of all teachers in U.S. public schools. The lack of Native representation extends to school leadership, and a program out of the University of New Mexico is starting to change that.

POLLEN – which stands for Promoting Our Leadership, Learning, and Empowering Nations – is working to increase the number of Indigenous school principals in Native communities and in schools that teach Indigenous students. In the program, which is mostly online, teachers learn the basics of being a school administrator through Indigenous and mainstream perspectives.

Shawn Secatero heads POLLEN and teaches school finance, which in Indian Country requires more nuance due to the role of the Bureau of Indian Education.

“So [students] get a taste of both the modern, mainstream education, and then they also get the Indigenized version,” he said.

Fifty principals have come out of the six cohorts since POLLEN launched in 2016. These students have mainly been from the Southwest, but the program has had at least one student from South Dakota make the handful of trips to Albuquerque.

POLLEN tries to cover the cost of tuition, books, and fees with grants. After graduation the students must work in an Indigenous serving-school for two years.

Secatero emphasizes the breadth of the 16 pillars that make up the curriculum, including language and spirituality.

“You have to know the culture, the language, and a lot of ways to survive and to fit in. But the premise of our program is that we get students who really care,” he said in a UNM release.

Editor's note: KUNR-based Mountain West News Bureau reporter Kaleb Roedel contributed to this story.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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