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Lincoln Public Schools has received a four-year, $2 million grant to improve the graduation rates and academic performance of Native students, work that will focus on cultural enrichment and understanding historical trauma.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education, while not the largest LPS has received, is substantial and will allow the district to initiate a number of programs to determine which ones make a difference, said Linda Hix, LPS director of federal programs.

The district will hire a coordinator to oversee the programs, which will be aimed at improving reading skills and will address mental health issues and focus on cultural issues. An advisory council will include members of the Ponca and Santee Sioux tribes.

The graduation rate of Native students is traditionally the lowest in the district, although the number of Native students is small enough that the graduation rate swings are fairly large. The 2017 graduation rate for Native students was 43 percent, which included just nine Native students. There were 256 Native students enrolled in grades K-12 last year.

In addition to increasing the graduation rate, LPS officials hope to use the grant to decrease absences, expulsions and suspensions, reduce the number of students at risk for suicide and improve how Native students feel about school.

It will include professional development for both current and new teachers on issues Native students face, including historical trauma, as well as additional training for school social workers and counselors.

LPS will hire a third Native advocate to work with elementary students and a full-time cultural specialist to work on school-based cultural activities.

The programs funded by the grant will include:

* Monthly events where tribal elders will read to elementary school students and share a meal with them. Students will be able to take books home.

* Creation of a Native Youth Leadership Council of middle and high school students.

* Tutoring for high school students, and summer camps at The Career Academy and focus programs for seventh- to ninth-graders.

* Presentations and discussions with specialists and tribal elders on historical trauma.

* School-based therapy for students identified as being at risk for suicide, and additional school- and home-based therapy with Santee Sioux therapists or those trained by the Santee Sioux System of Care.

* Native-specific restorative circles at schools and an all-LPS Pow Wow in partnership with the Santee Sioux and Ponca tribes.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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