ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Navajo students aspiring to become special education teachers will now have an additional avenue to do so, thanks to a new program created jointly by the Navajo Nation, the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance, Diné College and Western New Mexico University.
Navajo officials and the educational institutions met last week at the Office of President of the Navajo Nation Russell Begaye to sign an agreement establishing the new program.
“This is a great opportunity for our Navajo students to become involved in special education,” said Begaye, according to a news release. “Many of our students have been waiting for an opportunity like this to occur.”
The program was created to address the great need for special education teachers on the Navajo Nation said Diné College president Dr. Charles Roessel. Starting this fall, program participants will be able to obtain a bachelor’s in elementary education from Diné and a master’s in teaching special education from WNMU in the span of five years.
Doing so would normally require an additional year of study, said Dr. Joseph Shepard, the president of WNMU. “Special education is an important piece to creating an appropriate, well-balanced education system,” he said. “Oftentimes, we look at New Mexico and we fail to include the Navajo Nation. This allows a true partnership with institutions of higher education.”
Eligible Navajo students in the program will also be able to receive financial aid through the Navajo Nation’s scholarship office with the stipulation that they return to teach on the Navajo Nation or in Navajo-serving schools for the same number of years that they received aid. Such students will also receive $1,000 through WNMU provided that they can speak and understand Navajo, according to Shepard.
Roessel said that, due to Navajo language and culture being incorporated into the classes at Diné, those who complete the program will be well-suited to teach Navajo students.
“Our teachers are in a prime position to be the most wanted and employable teachers on the reservation because no one else has this background,” he said. “Now you add that to the ability to integrate special education, and that’s why this is such an amazing program.”