Hungry Minds: Native American Education

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Arizona PBS will air a show called “Hungry Minds,” a documentary about the transformation of several Native American high school students. The film makes a compelling argument for revitalizing Native American education through of creativity and leadership. The project was produced by the Nick Lowery Foundation, which is headed by former NFL kicker Nick Lowery. He will appear on Arizona Horizon to talk about his film.

Ted Simons: "Hungry Minds" is a documentary that chronicles the transformation of several American Indian high school students through a program that emphasizes creativity and leadership. The film airs tonight at 8:30 on eight world, which is channel 8.3 and Cox cable channel 88. "Hungry Minds" was produced by the Nick Lowery foundation. Joining us now is Nick Lowery. If the name rings a bell, you are a football fan, I remember you kicking for the chiefs.

Nick Lowery: For a long time.

Ted Simons: Give me a better definition of "Hungry Minds".

Nick Lowery: I think most of us remember the teacher, the professor that turned us on when we're seating in that learning environment known as a classroom, the one that excited us, made us want to pay attention, tapped into our better selves, and that's what hungry minds is about, re-engaging kids where they are today to stimulate their best production.

Ted Simons: As far as the kids are concerned, who are they? How old are they? Where are they from?

Nick Lowery: These kids are from all over. Watching "Hungry Minds" is great because we know working with superintendent John Huppenthal is that Native American kids are just as smart as any other kids but right now test talking wise they are dead last in test taking. We want to show that whether it is native Americans, Hispanic Americans, white Americans, black, Asian, wherever they come from, they can achieve greatness and most importantly discover what is their particular high purpose in life to make an impact on the world.

Ted Simons: The focus on the film seems to be nation building for native youth. What is that?

Nick Lowery: That was my fellowship at Harvard, and it has an arrogant sound to it, but it is about helping all of us build that community around us. It allows us to prosper and allows the people around us to find that sense of purpose, sense of higher purpose that drives us towards something that really matters.

Ted Simons: How do you, how do you find, never mind how you find, how do you get these kids to find that higher purpose, and do it through as you say, creativity and leadership?

Nick Lowery: Number one, the most important thing for all of us, like right now, your ability to focus on me. My ability to focus as a place kicker or studying at Harvard. That's everything to being great. As an artist, philosopher, as a surgeon, as a fighter pilot, whatever we do, focus and helping kids realize that ability to martial their minds on what matters. Number two, listening to their passion. We do a disk behavioral survey, which helps them become aware of the particular way that they learn, the way that they interact with others. We try to combine the notion of creativity, which is unique to all of us, with how we all behave in groups. If we can help kids at the age of 14, 15, 16, usually high school kids is who we target. If they have that reference to how to lead and how to learn at an early age, then they don't stumble nearly as much when they have positions of authority to do truly great things.

Ted Simons: It sounds different than the test-taking culture we're seeing right now.

Nick Lowery: Absolutely. What I found with kids today, most of them, if you ask them, as I have, how many of you feel like you have a sense of purpose or what you're learning today and how it will impact what you do with your life, most of them raise their hands and say I have no idea. And once we help them see that that's really what education should be, and the best educators are is connecting what I'm learning right now and how it will make me a great human being in whatever my particular unique gifts, that's when they become energized and that's become, that's when they become uniquely independent in their learning, and that's when they contribute at a much higher level than in today's classrooms.

Ted Simons: Is this the kind of thing where you can start with the mindset, what you're telling me, start on day one and move forward or do you have to move slowly because the kids come in with a whole different set of skills and expectations?

Nick Lowery: Well, what we find is in a five-day leadership training that we do, and you can go to to learn about it and be part of it. By the second day they realize things they have not realized before. Each of them is from a different tribe. Just like each of us might be from a different ethnic or cultural background. We find they're more harmonious, work better together than any homogenous group ever would. We try to combine Self-awareness with constant creative emphasis, represent the sacred symbols of all of their tribes and creates a story that is compelling and finally we end on the 5th day with a mock tribal council where they actually legal little advocate for something with research that will help literally become a new fundamental foundation for their community.

Ted Simons: Are there differences between when you do things at Dartmouth or when you do things outside of a tribal culture and you then work with American Indian students, are there cultural things you have to be aware of, work around, talk about that dynamic?

Nick Lowery: I think it is always about respect. We start with the fact that finally historians have acknowledged that the law of peace in the Iroquois Confederacy was admitted to by Ben Franklin himself to be a huge part of our original constitution. He forgot about women voting. But we will let him off of the hook for that. So, there is a sense of pride that native cultures had tremendous impact on America as it is today. And we start from that. It is really about respect and encouraging dialogue. In the end, and you will see on this program tonight, it is really about the kids speaking and manifesting their own change. It is much more about them showing how much they've changed.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about some of the results.

Nick Lowery: Number one, if you have heard of the developmental acids profile of the search institute, as respected as any, kids go from literally doubling how often they say positive responses from sometimes, let's say 50% of them will say I always feel confident about my future to 100%. Or 30% say I always resolve conflicts without violence to 75%. And that's in a matter of five days. We worked with prison youth on the pine ridge reservation in South Dakota, and the uniqueness you asked me about is true. You have to adapt to each environment. These are kids that come from fetal alcohol backgrounds, but if we stayed with them, as we did, it is amazing, every single one of them was an A or A plus artist that they never knew until we stay with them for a matter of five, six, seven straight hours.

Ted Simons: Obviously now you are getting good response from some of the kids. What about parents, tribes, what about educators? What are they saying about this?

Nick Lowery: Well, what they're saying is what they care most about, of course, is that kids feel energized to pull them through towards a more ambitious educational strategy. We know that parents that are engaged make a big difference. The Gallop Poll said hope and engagement is more important than test scores. We found that at ASU 85% of ASU students who were native dropped out, and yet when we gave them a group of five or six to begin their education journey, they stayed with it. We want kids to stay with their education and the only way that happens is when it's actually something that they see will be how they live their lives when they're 30, 50, 60.

Ted Simons: How long has this program been around?

Nick Lowery: It has been around for years. I testified before Senator John McCain in 2005 about it and 2003 before Campbell and we had great results. It is to me a symbol of education in general. Kids want to feel like their lives matter. And if your teacher made you feel that way, maybe that is one reason why you're sitting here today.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, are you hearing from kids who may have taken the program years ago, years ago, years ago, they're not kids anymore, how are they doing?

Nick Lowery: We have a significantly higher, to 30-40% higher rate of kids that are involved in public office. The other thing, a kid from the river reservation, the legislators and leaders from there said to us, what happened to her? She was already highly motivated. She went to I would like to, the intention to be a leader, to I'm a leader now, to I've already been a leader, it's in the past, and what's the next even bigger goal for my life that is not about my age, if I'm 18, but actually performing and acting and advocating like these 30-35 years of age and has been in the legislature for three or four terms.

Ted Simons: So, if folks want to learn more about this particular nation building for native youth -- the film is "Hungry Minds,"if they want to more about this, American Indian aspect, what do they do?

Nick Lowery: We won't put the phone number up there. It is on the web site. There are lots of videos. Most importantly it is about the kids. We let them speak for themselves.

Ted Simons: Nick Lowery youth foundation, what is that?

Nick Lowery: It is a foundation that is my way of giving back. We have champions against bullying, a huge subject lately. In the NFL this past year. It goes to the notion of difference and compassion. Once again, in environments where kids feel like they can make lots of mistakes and where they feel like somebody really understands them, and I might even use that word loves them. They relax and they learn better. They take more risks, and they treat others with more respect.

Ted Simons: What's next with the foundation?

Nick Lowery: We're going national. We are on a NASCAR car now. We are going to be with the NFL and bigger and better ways around the country. We've done about 67 schools now. And we also love this work with native youth and with kids just helping them feel like they can be leaders not 10 years from now. They want to be leaders now. AMERIcorps, that is why we are excited about that. That is what is missing in education today.

Ted Simons: Good luck and good work. Reminder this is on 8:30, eight world, 8.3, Cox channel 88. Good to see you. Thank you for joining us.

Nick Lowery: Thank you.

Nick Lowery:President and Chairman, Nick Lowery Foundation;

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