Diné Institute for Navajo Nation Educators receives NSF grant to continue STEM-based professional development


The Diné Institute for Navajo Nation Educators (DINÉ), a teacher-driven partnership between Northern Arizona University and schools on the Navajo Nation, received a $935,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to continue STEM-based professional development opportunities for K-12 teachers on the Navajo Nation.

The grant, which runs for four years, will support program costs for STEM-related seminars serving teachers in the Navajo schools, and the addition of teachers from one other Native Nation beginning in the grant’s third year. DINÉ is a partnership between NAU and Navajo schools aimed at strengthening the quality of teaching in Indigenous schools by offering professional development and resources to teachers. This will better serve students and help prepare them for the transition to college, which also will contribute to greater success in college and after graduation. DINÉ is part of NAU’s overall goal of ensuring Indigenous and Native American students have access to equitable educational opportunities and outcomes.

With this grant, DINÉ will reach more than 120 teachers in Native-serving schools who are interested in STEM-focused professional development. Through collaboration with one another, NAU faculty and Navajo Elders, these teachers will develop culturally responsive STEM instructional units that are free and accessible to other teachers. This funding also will help document how a nationally-implemented professional development model works in rural, Indigenous-serving schools.

DINÉ director Angelina Castagno explained that conducting research on the impact of this program is critical to measuring and improving the partnership’s success.

“Teacher quality is one of the most impactful school-based factors that affects student learning, so the DINÉ aims to improve teachers’ content knowledge in core subjects and support teachers in developing and delivering culturally responsive, academically rigorous curriculum to their students in kindergarten through high school,” Castagno said. “We are poised to continue growing our impact in 2020 by working with even more teachers from more schools on and bordering the Navajo Nation.”

Data collected from teachers will analyze how DINÉ impacts their teaching practices and their access to and use of STEM curriculum. Teachers participate in an 8-month fellowship that builds STEM-based content knowledge, curriculum-development skills and leadership abilities. Each teacher is required to write a curriculum unit that is research-based, aligns with standards and reflects both cultural and Western knowledge.

DINÉ recently joined the Yale National Initiative and became part of the League of Teachers Institutes. The organization’s collaborative nature, focus on helping Native American postsecondary students and work in rural settings impressed the national review panel. Such focused efforts are critical to the success of Native American and Indigenous students, said Chad Hamill, vice president of the Office of Native American Initiatives at NAU.

“In general, post-secondary institutions have not done a very good job of creating continuity between K-12 and college,” he said. “We intend to change that for Native American students, ensuring they arrive on day one ready to make the most of their college experience and share what they’ve learned with their communities. The NSF grant enables us to track our progress in this regard and make adjustments where needed.”

The Wharton Foundation and the APS Foundation provided initial funding to the DINÉ that enabled them to seek out this larger grant. The DINÉ is currently accepting applications from K-12 teachers for the 2020 cohort. Applications are due Feb. 17 and can be found on the DINÉ website.