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Alison Traynor of the North Dakota Health Department gave a presentation,  "Reaching Zero Suicides in North Dakota," on Thursday afternoon at the North Dakota Indian Education Summit. "No one person or factor is going to reduce suicide," said Traynor to the group of administrators and teachers from elementary and high schools. She said a known difference for youth is a good mentoring relationship with adults.

Some North Dakota teachers want to better understand the needs of their Native American students, as well as incorporate more Native culture into classroom instruction.

This past fall, the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, for the first time, administered a survey to identify Native students' needs to teachers and paraprofessionals in 29 schools in the state. Previously, it was only sent to principals and superintendents.

The survey also was sent to four urban school districts in North Dakota, Bismarck, Mandan, Fargo and Grand Forks, who serve a large number of Native students.

The survey results and action plan were discussed during the North Dakota Indian Education Summit on Thursday at the state Capitol. More than 160 educators, administrators and others registered for the summit, which continues Friday.

The survey, formally called the Native American Needs Assessment, was first sent out three years ago, according to Lucy Fredericks, director of DPI's office of Indian and multicultural education.

DPI held a focus group with teachers from Native American schools to determine how the survey could be improved. The focus group was asked about what topics should be addressed: In response, it was suggested that the survey be expanded to include questions about family engagement, bulling, mental health and other topics.

At the summit, some attendees discussed the survey results and needs of their schools. A group of administrators from Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain spoke about the lack of behavioral health professionals in their schools. Two administrators said they have had to transport students themselves to get the students the help that they need.

During a session discussion, teachers and administrators spoke about improving school climate and eliminating cultural biases and stereotypes of Native Americans. A teacher from Legacy High School in Bismarck said she thinks this could be improved in Bismarck Public Schools.

"I know my students at Legacy talk about the cultural climate pushing them out," she said.

Seventy-one percent of teachers surveyed about using negative stereotypes of Native American students said they do not "to a great extent."

Administrators rated the question about teachers not using negative stereotypes lower. Twenty-one percent of administrators said teachers "to a minimal extent" do not use negative stereotypes.

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The survey was divided into four categories: Culturally responsive curriculum and instruction, school climate, social, mental and behavioral well-being and professional development opportunities.

Teachers and administrators in the survey largely said their districts provide school‐based mental health services, cognitive behavioral intervention for trauma and connect students to Native healers.

Teachers also were asked what type of training was needed, and more than 30 percent said more training in understanding the needs of the Native communities of their students, social emotional learning and culturally responsive instruction.

Ceri Dean, a researcher with Regional Educational Laboratory Central who partnered with DPI to analyze the assessment data, said at the summit Thursday that the purpose of doing the needs assessment is to create a plan to address those needs.

An action plan was created based of the results of the survey, and it includes resources for teachers.

Fredericks said the theme of the summit this year was to help teachers learn how they can integrate Native American cultures into their classrooms.

DPI has adopted the Native American Essential Understanding Project, which provides lesson plans, videos of interviews with elders and other resources for teachers. The project is in its third phase this year, which means more schools will get training on how to utilize the project's resources. More information can be found at www.teachingsofourelders.org.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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Education and Health Reporter