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An Education in Honor - On the Reservation

Frazer is a small town on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, which sits in the northeastern corner of Montana. It is home to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes. About 100 students are enrolled in the elementary and secondary schools combined. Residents there are as self-reliant as they come: they are 30 miles from the nearest grocery store and hospital.

Until recently, the school district was experiencing difficulty due, in part, to administrative and teacher turnover. Programs were not performing as well as expected. The situation created conflict and distrust within the Native American community.

“Rightfully so,” says Marlene Harrell, in her third year as Principal and Federal Programs Administrator. “We’re working to restore trust.”

The school district had two goals: to mend the rift between school and community, and to increase academic achievement. They found that Positive Action met those goals and purchased the program for school, home, and community.

Since then, the district has experienced positive behavioral changes, a decline in tardiness and truancy, and improved academic achievement. Elementary students had a 31 percent increase in state testing scores due to all of the interventions.

“The Positive Action program gives us a common language for our children, their parents, and the community. We have an Award of Honor and certificates focusing on caring, sharing, helping, respect, truth, honesty, trustworthiness, courage, bravery, responsibility, and wisdom,” says Harrell. “What is helpful is that the Positive Action program is compatible with our Native American values and ethics. We want to celebrate who we are and improve on that.”

The universality of Positive Action allows Fort Peck to emphasize the values and traditions important to their community through the Positive Action concepts, lessons, and activities. The students gather certificates, “ICU Doing Something Positive” notes, and “Word of the Week” cards, and they are tallied and recorded. At mid-year, the top Positive Action students receive awards such as bear-tooth necklaces, arrowhead necklaces, wind chimes, dream catchers, and beaded necklaces and bracelets. The students look forward to these awards and strive to earn them. The biggest award at the end of the year is a Star Quilt—a revered tradition and an honor to receive. The whole community will get involved with a public ceremony to honor the students who receive quilts.

“It will be a great day in our community,” concludes Harrell.