Cultural Conversations in Public Charter Schools?

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Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe Academy charter school logo

A growing number of public charter schools specialize in integrating cultural knowledge alongside a more established educational curriculum. The Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe Academy, a high-performing charter school in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, fulfills this mission by shaping their student experience around the Anishinaabe traditions and language.

Originally sponsored by the Sault Ste. Marie band of Chippewa Indians in 1994, the school converted to a charter school one year later, opening its doors to public school students from across the community. Elders and tribal leaders created the school after seeing a significant need to revitalize their language and culture while building connections with the tribal youth. They believed that providing a safe and nurturing educational environment for tribal youth where they could help integrate the Anishinaabe language and culture into a rigorous academic curriculum best served the needs of their community. This school combines a community-driven approach of relegating generational wisdom with traditional preparation for a modern workforce.

While the school continues to serve a majority native population, the Anishnabe Academy, like all public charter schools, is open to all students. This helps students of all backgrounds gain new perspectives on Native American history, culture, and the ongoing challenges facing First Nation communities. The Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe Academy exemplifies what it looks like for a school to provide children with unique cultural knowledge while also maintaining high educational standards.

The success of schools specializing on cultural competencies shows that families expect far more from public schools than many experts assume. The emphasis on raising math and reading scores, while laudable, belies the fact that many families expect math and reading proficiency to serve as the floor, not the ceiling.

To appeal to a broader collection of students, schools all too frequently neglect the fostering of cultural awareness and an appreciation for the history and heritage of the students and families in the communities they serve. However, an increasing number of charter schools offer families an environment that prioritizes the teaching of cultural knowledge while maintaining high educational standards.

While many public schools are bogged down by the onerous rules dictated by the education bureaucracy, public charter schools typically operate with the flexibility and autonomy necessary to push the boundaries and serve families in ways that meet their more holistic needs and desires. These specialized schools may not suit the need of all families, but they offer them a choice of where, how, and what they want their children to learn.

Jamison White is manager of data and research at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


Learn more about charter schools on our about charter schools page.