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John Eggers releases new book, 'Creating Schools for Native American Students'

Longtime educator John Eggers of Bemidji has committed to a 100% graduation rate of high school students, and his most recent book is one more step in that direction.

Creating Schools For Native American Students web.jpg
Bemidji author John Eggers has released a new book titled "Creating Schools for Native American Students," which is available on his website and at Bemidji Woolen Mills.
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BEMIDJI — Longtime educator John Eggers has committed to a 100% graduation rate of high school students, and his most recent book is one more step in that direction.

In his book, “Creating Schools for Native American Students,” Eggers aims to help educators realize different ways to help Native American students succeed in school, and by extension, graduate.

“The current dilemma we find in schools today is that Native American students are not doing well, so that behooves us to do something different,” Eggers said. “My hope is that people, especially educators with high populations of Native American students, will read the book and do something differently.”

Sparking from conversations with area tribal members and educators, Eggers’ book details several methods of rethinking how education is offered and emphasizes a need to create different types of schools, or “moon schools.”

Eggers defines moon schools as “schools that challenge our creativity and are based less on the past and more on the future.”

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“This book is long overdue because I don’t know of any other book that really describes in specific detail what schools could do to help more students graduate,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t have all the answers, but I hope any teacher of Native American students will read the book and come up with a conclusion.”

Drawing from over 50 years in education, Eggers was principal at Red Lake High School from 1985 to 1992 and also served as the first director of the Naytahwaush Community Charter School on White Earth Nation.

Along with other experiences, Eggers found it important to collaborate with surrounding tribal nations to inform propositions in the book.

“Whenever you’re working with another culture, the best skill is just to listen to the people,” Eggers said. “I have one chapter in the book about me as a white person, my cultural education and what it meant to me, so I hope to build trust between myself and Native American leaders … to take what I have to say as it comes from the heart.”

Key takeaways

Eggers reserved one chapter to discuss the Four Winds Alternative School, an option for Red Lake students which graduated nearly 100% of its students during Eggers’ tenure at Red Lake.

He spoke with Four Winds’ Co-director Leo Soukop, who detailed 10 “ingredients” of a school designed for Native American students. Eggers had similar conversations with Charles Grolla, a cultural and language teacher at Leech Lake Nation, along with Red Lake Nation member Susan Ninham, an educator and health care administrator.

Some takeaways from these conversations included:

  • Journal writing, including interviews with elders and personal stories.
  • Celebrating traditional Indigenous holidays.
  • Incorporating Seven Grandfather Teachings into local language, culture and history curriculum, which should be hands-on.
  • Include and involve community members in school activities and classes.
  • Students should experience job shadowing in the community.
  • Class sizes should be manageable and safe.
  • Flexible class schedule, including possible evening classes.
  • A credit recovery program.
  • Hiring Native support staff, leadership and teachers who are a mixture of personalities, can incorporate a variety of teaching approaches and be willing to try new things.
  • Provide non-Native staff with training and knowledge of the community they serve.

Eggers detailed a 55% graduation rate of Native American students in Minnesota schools. In comparison, around 69% of African American students graduate along with 83% of Caucasian students.
Keeping these statistics in mind, he emphasized the need for moon schools that don’t look anything like they do now. These could include schools that don’t use the current K-12 grading system or letter grades.

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He added that virtual learning options exacerbated by the pandemic have already started a shift in education for all students.

“Fifteen years from now, we won’t recognize schools as they are today,” Eggers left off. “We need to think about the future and today’s schools are really not the answer. Schools are trying to make a difference, but they’re doing things that have already been done and haven’t been shown to work. Maybe this book will spur some creative thinking that will get the ball rolling.”

Eggers’ book is available on his website, www.johnrogereggers.com, where information on upcoming book signings can be found. Copies are also available at Bemidji Woolen Mills.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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