JA Brings Programming to Native American Students in Wyoming

Native American students standing and sitting at St. Stephens Indian School participating in JA virtual programs.
St. Stephens Indian School students participating in a virtual version of JA Career Speakers Series in spring 2021.

It started the way many fruitful partnerships do, with an introduction. Rob Black, the Native American liaison at the Wyoming Department of Education, connected Junior Achievement and St. Stephens Indian School because he saw how beneficial JA programs could be for students.

Wyoming’s remote Wind River Reservation encompasses 2.2 million acres and is home to Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes and St. Stephens Indian School. Approximately 96% of St. Stephens’ 285 K-12 students are Native American. Grades K-8 are taught in one building, and grades 9-12 in another. As a federal tribal grant school, the State of Wyoming provides one-fifth of its funding, and the Bureau of Indian Education supplies the rest.

Black was intrigued by the career exploration offered by JA’s Career Speakers Series.

“It’s so important that kids are exposed to career options,” Black says. “Our most vulnerable population in Wyoming is our Native American community. They have lower test scores and graduation rates, and we want to try to rise the tide for everyone.”

In the six years Black has been liaison, he’s co-organized the annual Native American Education Conference twice at St. Stephens with Macey Mortimore, the school’s instructional administrator.

Mortimore signed up for the JA Career Speaker Series program with longtime JA partner Otter Products. Based in Fort Collins, Colorado, the company provides accessories for mobile technology and outdoor adventures. One day each year, Otter employees volunteer during a global event called closed2open. JA provided students with information to help them understand Otter Products. Then last spring, three Otter employees gave a virtual presentation to 6th- to 12th-grade students at St. Stephens, tailoring their talks to grade levels.

“It was interactive,” Mortimore recalls. “One volunteer had gone to college for music and ended up doing software design. So, the kids asked him about music and video games. Teachers were happy with how it went, and students told me they found it interesting.”

Afterward, Mortimore talked to JA about expanding its outreach to St. Stephens. Starting this fall, all the school’s K-12 students will learn from JA curricula.

Teaching young children about the importance of college and career training is one of the factors the state of Wyoming considers in school accreditation. Mortimore says the JA curricula will help St. Stephens meet its goals concerning college and career opportunity readiness training for students.

“I think the material is appropriate and realistic even for our kids who live in a rural setting. It does a good job of being something that kids can relate to,” Mortimore says.

Kelsey Noroski is JA-Rocky Mountain’s education manager covering Northern Colorado and Wyoming. While JA and Otter Products have partnered for years, she was eager to work with St. Stephens for the first time.

“What’s exciting about St. Stephens is that they did a great introductory program to Junior Achievement this year and set themselves up for success next year with curricula for their elementary and middle school students. JA staff create and test the curricula to ensure it meets learning criteria,” Noroski says.

Noroski says the JA programs are universal.

“We want every student regardless of their background, regardless of where they came from, or where they’re going to, to have the ability to manage their life in a successful way,” Noroski says.

In addition to making the connection between St. Stephens and JA, Black would like to see the partnership expand. He says there are 5,889 other students on and near the Wind River Reservation that could benefit from JA programs as well.

“I hope St. Stephens can be a model that other schools on the reservation emulate,” he says.