Educational trends for American Indian and Alaska Native youth can appear disheartening, with truancy and chronic absentee rates disproportionately high and the overall on-time high school graduation rate lower than the national average (see sidebar). To help Tribal communities identify factors contributing to chronic absenteeism and truancy, and to guide the development of programs to help keep Native youth in school, OJJDP’s Tribal Youth Resource Center has published Supporting Tribal Youth Attendance Achievement: A Resource To Support Community-Based Truancy Prevention Programs.
“While there are many resources that focus on academic achievement and the importance of school attendance, there are a limited number that focus specifically on Tribal-specific issues,” explained Anna Clough, Codirector of the Tribal Youth Resource Center and lead author of the publication. “As we develop resources, we look to both Tribal- and non-Tribal-specific literature and scholarship to identify best and promising practices for Tribal youth.”
With Supporting Tribal Youth Attendance Achievement: A Resource To Support Community-Based Truancy Prevention Programs, the Tribal Youth Resource Center seeks to help Indigenous communities encourage youth to stay in school and graduate on time. The publication addresses truancy from a trauma-informed perspective that emphasizes youth resilience. It presents strategies Tribal communities are using to address and prevent truancy and identifies resources that are useful when developing prevention and intervention programs—particularly those designed for Tribal youth.
The publication opens with an introduction to truancy prevention and its consequences, then reviews educational policies impacting Tribal nations, factors that increase a youth’s risk for truancy and factors that reduce it, and strategies for developing truancy prevention programs. Real-world case studies illustrate different types of prevention programs and the appropriate settings for them; a series of program profiles offers additional insights.
The publication’s review of educational policies provides historical context for the conditions contemporary Tribal students encounter. It describes the missionary- and government-run schools espoused throughout the 19th century, for example. Supported by legislation, policies, and treaties, many schools sought to assimilate Native peoples into Western culture by separating children from their families and prohibiting traditional religious and cultural practices. Federal legislation passed in the 20th and 21st centuries has supported educational approaches that address the unique needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students, but the consequences of early policies and practices persist.
Supporting Tribal Youth Attendance Achievement: A Resource To Support Community-Based Truancy Prevention Programs is the work of Tribal Youth Resource Center staff and other consultants with expertise in Tribal education program development, Ms. Clough said. “I hope that the information spurs honest conversation about the historical impact of federal education policy, the contemporary issues faced by Tribal youth, families, and communities, and consideration of the various ways Tribal youth can benefit from effective Tribal-school partnerships,” she said. “We are grateful to be a part of the work that impacts the lives of Tribal youth and their communities.”
OJJDP funded a three-part learning series focused on truancy prevention, presented in 2020 by the Tribal Youth Resource Center and the National Native Children’s Trauma Center. In 2021, the Tribal Youth Resource Center also hosted an online learning event, Talking Attendance: A Dialogue on Truancy Prevention.
Statistics Underscore Educational Needs in Indian Country
Data on school attendance and graduation rates for Native youth demonstrate the need for strategies to address and prevent truancy and chronic absenteeism. In a country of more than 330 million people, the 2020 U.S. Census identified just 9.7 million—2.9 percent of the total population—as American Indian or Alaska Native (alone or in combination with another race). Yet, American Indian and Alaska Native youth:
“When we develop resources, we specifically focus on the needs of the communities that we serve,” Tribal Youth Resource Center Codirector Anna Clough said. “It is my hope that Tribal youth prevention programs can take Supporting Tribal Youth Attendance Achievement: A Resource To Support Community-Based Truancy Prevention Programs and utilize it as part of their overall program planning and program implementation or development.”