Education Spotlight: Columbia Heights Public Schools (Minnesota)

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This photo is of the 5th Grade Valley View Elementary School teacher, Emily Letourneau, who recently attended the Bdote field trip with the Minnesota Humanities Center and is working with 5th Grade teams across the district to embed Lessons of Our Land into the curriculum maps.


What is the name of your school district?

Columbia Heights Public Schools

What are the unique student demographics of your district?

We have a very diverse student demographic.

American Indian/Alaskan Native: 82 students (2.6%)

Asian/Pacific Islander: 183 students (5.8%)

Hispanic: 966 students (30.6%)

Black, not of Hispanic Origin: 1,155 students (36.5%)

White, not of Hispanic Origin: 775 students (24.5%)

All Students: 3,161 (100.0%)

What is the name and role of your office/department?

The Office of Teaching and Learning supports our schools, programs and classrooms in collaboration with other district departments. Our areas of focus are curriculum, instruction, professional development and assessment. The scope of our department includes early childhood up through graduation and every content area.

Why are you interested in the Lessons of Our Land curriculum?

Our mission is to provide worlds of opportunity for every learner. We really mean every learner. Though our Native student population is small, it is very significant. We feel that all students will benefit from our developing relationship with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and the Lessons of Our Land curriculum.

What does your school district hope to achieve by using lessons from the curriculum?

In Minnesota there are academic standards that ensure that we incorporate instruction around Native American topics such as history, art, music, and literature. In June of 2015 we hosted a session for teachers called "Inclusive Curriculum and Instruction: Native American Strand." This session was part learning and part curriculum work session. Nick Emmons from the Indian Land Tenure Foundation and Neil McKay from the U of MN American Indian Studies Department supported the session by speaking with teachers and then working with teacher teams to create and embed Native American standards into their content area. The teachers found the Lessons of Our to be very useful and aligned to academic standards. Our goal for using the lessons is two-fold. First, we will embed Native American topics into our curriculum across several content areas and grade levels. The second goal is to use culturally relevant teaching strategies that meet the needs of our diverse learners. The lessons and resources from the Foundation provide our district with an authentic Native perspective.

How does the curriculum fit into your school district's education philosophy?

Our school district is committed to providing quality education to our Native American students and ensuring that voices that have been absent in our curriculum are thoughtfully woven back in. We believe that a well-rounded curriculum, where students can see themselves and connect to the content, will benefit all of our students. This summer our superintendent, management team and all principals participated in an excursion to the Mounds and Caves in St. Paul. We were led by Dakota specialist, Jim Rock. In addition, the district leadership is currently reading Anton Treuer's book "Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians but Were Afraid to Ask." As you can see, from teachers, to our leadership, and staff across the district, we are committed to providing worlds of opportunity to EVERY learner.


The Indian Land Tenure Foundation thanks Columbia Heights Public Schools for using and encouraging their teachers to weave the Lessons of Our Land curriculum within their core plans of study. Teaching Native culture, history, and values through a land-based approach builds a stronger foundation that empowers Native communities and their allies while also protecting Native lands. Keep up the outstanding work, Columbia Heights!