PODCAST: An Indigenous community’s fight for educational equity and cultural reclamation

April 21, 2020

A recent award-winning study by University of Washington College of Education Assistant Professor Shaneé Washington explores the challenges and possibilities for Indigenous families, community members and district educators to engage with one another in culturally sustaining and revitalizing ways.

In a new podcast, Washington discusses her study, “Family-School-Community (Dis)Engagement: An Indigenous Community’s Fight for Educational Equity and Cultural Reclamation in a New England School District,” the recipient of multiple awards from the American Educational Research Association in 2020.

For her exploratory case study, Washington spent a year in a New England town that is home to the Wampanoag tribe conducting in-depth interviews with local Native parents and community members, as well as district administrators and educators. Through those interviews, Washington explored how these groups conceptualized family-school-community engagement in different ways and their actual practices around engagement.

Washington said she found educators largely viewed and practiced engagement in traditional ways.

“So many of the educators talked about the importance of open communication between [the] teacher, the schools and parents — keeping parents informed about their child's progress in school, communicating with parents about upcoming events and encouraging them to be a part of it,” Washington said. “They also talked about the importance of having an open school model where you have a plethora of opportunities for parents to come into the school whether that be for a curriculum night [or] a back to school night. And then some educators talked about the importance of being open minded and recognizing that some parents struggle more than others, for example, they may be working multiple jobs.”

Whereas educators were more school-centric in how they thought about engagement, Washington said community members were more tribe-centric.

“Their focus was really emphasizing the importance of language and cultural renewal and continuity,” she said. “They also expressed how they believe that it was the school's role to ensure that their children were able to be successful in life through the acquisition of academic skills, but also life skills as well.”

Native community leaders were responsible for most of the language and culture-based program improvements in the school district including establishing a credit-bearing Wampanoag world language course, securing funding to support culture and language-based programming in an elementary school and starting a tribe-district partnership that met on a quarterly basis to talk about goals for improving the knowledge of educators and students regarding Wampanoag history and culture.

While the partnership was praised by all sides, Washington noted that it was between school and district administrators and community leaders, leaving out the voices of families and teachers.

“So I would say, don't leave parents out of conversations,” Washington said. “And make sure you're including parents as partners whose voices are heard and valued, and whose input is implemented in any plans and all plans to improve family and community relations.

“I would say don't be so quick to celebrate and to commend yourself for being in good relations or partnerships with families and communities when in actuality, you're just in somewhat of a good relationship with the community leaders.”

Washington also noted the impact of differences in cultural capital among parents in the ways they were responded to by educators and in the results of their advocacy.

“Community leaders collaborated with other community leaders and community organizations to achieve their advocacy, whereas the parents were often operating in independent silos,” Washington said. “And so I would say, to merge efforts and be intentional about coming together as both parents and communities to achieve the priorities that they have for their children. I believe that each side can be more successful if they're working together.”

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Shaneé Washington, Assistant Professor of Education

Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu