Lakeland Union partners with UW researchers to support indigenous students
Lakeland Union High School is partnering with researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Madison to better support indigenous students.
The school ranked among the highest in the state for referring indigenous students to police just four years ago, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity.
Although only about a quarter of the school’s student body is indigenous, 40 to 50 percent of police referrals and disciplinary actions were for indigenous students.
The collaboration with UW researchers is trying to change that.
“As we started the [research] process it was like, what are the reasons, what are the root causes as to why that happens?” Levi Massey, the school’s assistant principal and a collaborator on the research project, said. “Some of the things are within our locus of control, some were outside our local of control. As we work with the UW-Madison crew, we’re finding out what things we have the ability to impact.”
That includes things like fostering a more welcoming and inclusive learning environment, creating a cohesive class structure across subject areas, and doing more outreach to the tribal community.
Massey says steps like these are meant to combat challenges indigenous students face at the school.
One such challenge, he says, is that most of the school’s indigenous students come from the same elementary school, where at least 90 percent of the student population is part of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
When those students get to Lakeland Union, many find themselves in the minority in a school setting for the first time.
“That’s a difficult transition to make,” Massey says.
On top of that, the history of public education in tribal communities is tumultuous, says Massey.
Some students have grandparents who were forced to attend boarding schools.
Others have parents who attended Lakeland Union during the Walleye Wars, when tensions between tribal members and the outside community were strung tight.
“Our staff, our administration and our teachers, we all realize that trauma is a real component for our Native American students,” Massey says. “Just because we say we’re doing this or that, we have to take into account that real social aspect that these kids are facing when they come to this school setting."
Massey says time will tell if the school’s efforts are working.
But he’s hopeful the collaboration with UW-Madison will bring success not just to local students, but to indigenous students across the country.
“Our Native American students are doing very well in this high school, but because the history has not been good, our bar needs to be set higher,” he says. “We want to be the trend-setter, the pace-setter for that.”