AIAN Teacher in the Spotlight

A Native American Rural High School Teacher is Named this Year’s Monsanto Fund Rural Teacher of the Year

Awarded by the National Rural Education Association.

Shaun Martin, 31,  draws on his Native American heritage to inspire motivation and commitment from his students.  He has taught and coached for eight years at Chinle High

Photo courtesy of the National Rural Education Association.

School in Chinle, Ariz., which enrolls about 925 students on a Navajo reservation. It was the first time rural Arizona education leaders had nominated a Native American teacher for competition.

Bill Blong, executive director of the Arizona Rural Schools Association, wrote in his nomination letter that the selection committee was impressed with the young teacher who works to be a good influence and dynamic mentor.

“Mr. Martin uses the ancient practice of distance running as a catalyst to teach self-discipline, commitment, and fortitude to impart the Navajo Way to his students,” he wrote. “He uses running as a positive activity and its discipline as a way to overcome the hardships of reservation life.”

Martin grew up running alongside his father, who was raised in a traditional Navajo family. They’d wake at 5 a.m. and run to the East to meet the sun. His father told him, “Running in the morning to meet the sun and holy people is how we celebrate life, it’s how we pray, and it’s a mentor to teach us about life.”

Martin knew he wanted to be a coach and teacher by middle school, and he never wavered from that goal. He was recruited to run at Northern Arizona University and accepted an academic scholarship from the Navajo Nation. He was among only a handful of Native American athletes in the NCAA Division 1 athletic program.

He graduated from college in 2004 and took the teaching position in Chinle on the reservation. He said in his competition application that he strives to teach students the most valuable lesson he’s learned: turning negative situations into positive ones.

He implemented a distance running program at Chinle High and at the district’s other six schools. For students in grades 2 through 12, Martin uses the club to link distance-running skills to success in the classroom and in life.

His cross-country and track teams have won 13 state titles, and 14 runners have been individual state champions. But he said his most significant accomplishment is that 44 of his students have gone to college on athletic or academic scholarships. Many students in his community don’t go to college.

Martin said in his application for the award that many of his school’s students face significant challenges, such as homes without running water or electricity, traveling as far as 45 miles one way to get to school, drug and alcohol abuse, and single-parent families. He said he tries to teach them to “only focus on the variables you can control, don’t stress the uncontrollable.”

The Rural Teacher of the Year award receives a $2,000 honorarium, and the school district receives $1,000 for instructional materials and school supplies. Martin presented at the National Rural Education Association convention and research symposium on Oct. 13 in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Education Drives America 2012 Bus Tour

Elko: Community collaboration is key 

Photo by Joshua Hoover

At the Great Basin Indian Education Roundtable on day two of ED’s cross-country bus tour, it was clear that education really does drive America. During Thursday’s first event at Great Basin College in Elko, Nev., we witnessed how communities can come together.

William Mendoza, director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education led the panel that featured Deb Delisle, assistant secretary for the office of elementary and secondary education, Nevada Tribal leaders, Nevada’s state superintendent, representatives from institutions of higher education, representatives from Title VII and Impact Aid school grantees, teachers, parents, students, and community members.


Photo by Joshua Hoover

“It was refreshing to hear about best practices we can learn from and most especially share with other communities so they can best meet the needs of their children” -Asst Secretary Deb Delisle.

ED officials listened to panelists as they described the challenges they are facing, but also how school districts and communities are working together to improve education for Native American students.

“Native Americans are a significant portion of our enrollment and community.  It is important that we reach out to them as effectively as we can” – John Rice, Great Basin College’s Chief Development Officier 

The roundtable included: Gerald Temoke, chairman of the Elko Band of Indians; James W. Guthrie, Nevada superintendent of education; Sherry Rupert, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission; Deb Delisle,  Asst Secretary of the Office of Elementary and Seconday Education; Bill Mendoza, director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaskan Native Education;  Dr Mark Curtis, president of Great Basin College; Mike McFarlane, vice president of academic affairs for Great Basin College, Thad Ballard, president of the Elko County School Board; Lori Pasqua, pre-college advisor for the Washoe Tribe education department; Lynn Manning, Indian education program coordinator for Washoe Country school district; Carol Couchum, teacher at Oywhee Combined School in Elko County school district.  

Additional Resources

Check out a powerpoint presentation from the event:                                                                                                                       Impact Aid Presentation from Break-out Session-2013 Funding and IPPs

See press coverage of the Great Basin Indian Education Roundtable: