San Juan School District Receives Grant for Native Education

Nov 4, 2016

The San Juan School District in southeastern Utah received a grant for almost a million dollars from the U.S. Department of Education last month.

“It’s a lot of money,” said Lynnette Johnson, Student Support Services director for the San Juan School District. “It’s just a lot of money.”

Johnson helped write the grant, and says because the $986,570 from the Department of Education is supplemental to the district’s existing budget, it will help students even more.

“This is really taking things in a new direction, and it is going to be really substantial for our district,” Johnson said.

The grant, called the Native Youth Community Project, is aimed at helping improve educational opportunities for Native American youth. According to the Department of Education, it will serve about 1,600 Navajo and Ute students throughout the district. Five schools in the San Juan School District are located within the boundaries of the Navajo Nation.

There are a few main components to the grant. One component will create more culturally-appropriate discipline programs for Native students. Johnson described a system used by the Navajo tribe called Peacemaking. 

“We have a tendency in Anglo society to say ‘oh, you committed an infraction, so here’s your consequence or your punishment, and don’t do it again,’” she explained.

“Peacemaking is much more of ‘let’s sit down and find out what’s behind that, let’s see if there’s a way we can support each other, mend fences…’ that kind of thing.”

She said the grant will help both students and their families take part in the Peacemaking process, and fund the Ute Mountain Ute tribe to develop its own program similar to Peacemaking.

Other components of the grant include hiring six new social workers for Native youth, creating a data-driven program to monitor students’ academic and behavioral challenges, and bringing together school and community professionals to help those students.

But the grant doesn’t only focus on fixing discipline and behavioral problems. The last component will involve contracting with a company called Dream Navigator to design a college- and career- planning curriculum specifically for Navajo and Ute secondary school students. The program is aimed at incorporating more elements of Native culture into post-high school planning.

In general, Johnson said the grant should streamline an existing set of student services throughout the district that can sometimes seem uncoordinated and redundant.

“We’re trying to get our players together and say, ‘what’s going to be a comprehensive program that’s going to support our kids, and that’s going to organize some of these resources better for us?’” Johnson said.

Audio from the full interview with Johnson can be found below.