Indigenous Educators Corps Member Gives Back to Native School

Kyle Dee, Diné, shares his love for math at Dził Ditł'ooí School of Empowerment, Action and Perseverance - DEAP

Kyle Dee, math specialist and teacher at the NACA Inspired Schools Network (NISN), DEAP believes that understanding math is more than just plugging numbers into a formula. He is a first-year teacher at the Dził Ditł'ooí School of Empowerment, Action and Perseverance, and he tells his students that to know math is to know the story of math and numbers. Kyle has lived in many places but his mother is from Crownepoint, New Mexico near Antelope Lookout. He is deeply connected to where he is from and how it informs where he wants to go.

A current student at the University of New Mexico, Kyle is studying to become a mathematician because he believes studying math intrinsically will assist him in becoming a better math teacher. He has served two AmeriCorps terms for NISN starting in March of 2016. The NISN Indigenous Educators Corps, in partnership with seven (7) different schools and communities, works to deliver enriched educational experiences that build on community-defined needs and strengths for Native American students in New Mexico. Currently, NISN hosts 26 AmeriCorps members across 8 sites.

During his time as an Indigenous Education Corps member, Kyle worked with middle and high school students at the Native American Community Academy (NACA) and coached them in mathematics across grade levels. Now, he is teaching 6-10 grade at DEAP, where he says he conveys to students the meaning of math instead of the misconception that is math is just a bunch of numbers. Kyle says working at the NACA inspired him to push the concepts of math further within his lessons to meaningfully connect with his students.

He uses this philosophy of teaching to interact with his DEAP students. DEAP opened in Fall 2015. Located in Navajo, NM, DEAP honors the history and legacy of Dził Ditł'ooí by consciously balancing the needs of the land with the needs of the people through Dine’ culture revitalization, community action and empowerment, service learning, experiential learning based in Agriculture education, a wellness and perseverance philosophy, and career and college prep focus.

Kyle says that he learned a lot from his teacher mentors at NACA Main Campus. Paula Maxim, Stephanie Hinson, Stacy Leslie and Clem Wings assisted him in teaching strategies and classroom management skills that were able to help him truly connect with middle school students, especially students enrolled in Intervention Math. Later, he went on to teach at the NACA High School Campus located near the UNM School of Library and worked with upper-grade level students.

He wants to pass along to his students the ability to see how math affects them on a daily basis. He teaches students that math skills are needed for their future and that the “real world” is steeped in mathematics. Importantly, Kyle knows that as an Indigenous educator he is able to relate to his students through shared cultural backgrounds, stories, and language. “It’s important that there is more Native representation within the education sector. I can relate to my students through our shared culture and traditions, through our language. In a very real way, I can be a model for my young students,” Kyle says of his work with his DEAP students. He believes in healthy communities and continuously working towards healthy futures for DEAP, Navajo, and all Native communities. In general, he encourages more Native and POC folk to be involved in the education sector. One day, he envisions that some of his current Dził Ditł'ooí School of Empowerment, Action and Perseverance will be in his shoes. That they will find a place at the front of a classroom, teaching young Native students and giving back to their community. For now, he continues to focus on ways to teach mathematics through an Indigenous lens. He appreciates that as a new teacher he has much to learn. Additionally, he knows the innate power in being an Indigenous male educator returning to the reservation to teach young people. Kyle says of his teaching journey, “I do like teaching very much at DEAP. I really do love it. I’m eager to see how our school community will grow. It’s an amazing place of learning.”

For more information on how to join our NISN AmeriCorps Program - Indigenous Educators Corps please contact Ventura Lovato at

NISN AmeriCorps Program - Indigenous Educators Corps

Raíces del Saber Xinachtli Community School has Been Approved to Open Doors in Las Cruces, New Mexico in August 2019.

Las Cruces, NM, Sept 6, 2018 – The State Public Education Commission (PEC) voted to approve the Raíces del Saber Xinachtli Community School’s application Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. The PEC approved Raíces application to move forward into their planning year and the 90:10 dual language immersion school is slated to enroll K-1 students in its first year, adding one grade each year until K-5. Raíces del Saber, (Spanish for Roots of Knowledge) Xinachtli (Nahuatl for the moment a seed germinates) Community School will open their doors to students in Dona Ana county in August 2019.

Raíces del Saber Xinachtli Community School (Raíces) is a public charter that implements a developmentally appropriate rigorous academic program through an interdisciplinary curriculum that is experiential, participatory, biliterate, child centered and culturally responsive. Reclaiming regional, local history and heritage is integral to the mission of Raíces, specifically within a US-Mexico Border context within Doña Ana county and surrounding areas.

"I would like to say that I'm so excited that there's now an opportunity for my daughter to be a part of a program that will allow her to value education while learning about all aspects of her cultural heritage. This program will be a great opportunity to help me pass down to my daughter the gift of language that will keep our Mexican family traditions alive in the absence of my mother and grandmother, who would've helped to make sure every generation be given the gift of knowing and learning the Spanish language,” Nahtasha Garza-Swindle, parent.

Innovative in its approach to education, Raíces implements the Xinachtli instructional model through which children learn the use of symbols and metaphors to conceptualize their relationship with the natural world, a Mesoamerican base-20 mathematics system, and Nahuatl (Aztec) as an enrichment language. Student outcomes also include biliteracy in English and Spanish that promotes s ubject matter proficiency and positive identity formation through a culturally responsive curriculum. Raíces promotes parent participation in all aspects of school life continually reinforcing the bridge between home and the classroom.

Raíces has forged a meaningful relationship with New Mexico State University and has partnered with NMSU College of Education, Myrna’s Children’s Village NMSU (a special pre-school project committed to well-being of children). Raíces hopes to continue collaborations with the Children’s Village project and the NMSU Teacher Preparation Program by providing an instructional model that supports highly qualified teachers who instruct in bilingual and bi-cultural classrooms.

Other community relationships and supporters include the Mayor and members of the Las Cruces City Council, NMSU Director of Ethnic Studies, Director of the NMSU Early Childhood Program, RAZA Development Fund, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, New Mexico Early Childhood Partnership, Ngage New Mexico, CAFé, La Semilla Food Center, Dual Language Education of New Mexico, and early childhood education programs such as Doña Ana County Head Start and the Children’s Reading Alliance of Doña Ana County. Raíces has also established relationships with W.K. Kellogg Foundation and McCune Foundation for support and resources. For more information or questions please contact Lucia V. Carmona (Coordinator) at 575-571-2177 or Rocio Benedicto (Board Member) at

Hiyupo Alliance at NACA - "To Call People Forward."

Hiyupo (He-You-po) to call people forward. A call to action, to battle. Follow us as we work with the Boys and Young Men at NACA to Heal, Grow, and Thrive. The

The Native American Community Academy Hiyupo Boy's Group has changed their name to the Hiyupo Alliance. They are expanding initiatives to engage more boys and young men through an alliance of programs including gardening, drum group, entrepreneurship, leadership, and wellness. Additionally the Hiyupo Alliance is kicking off their "Uncles Mentoring Program," and more information will be found soon on their social media page.  You may also contact Program Director Makhpiya J. Black Elk at for more information. Recently the Hiyupo Alliance (Uncles and their Nephews) built NACA's newest sweat lodge. Black Elk said of the sweat lodge, "We aren’t just building a lodge for ceremony, we are building community where we can unapologetically heal, grow, and thrive." Hiyupo Alliance just launched their recruitment initiative for the semester/academic year.  Check out their page:


Spoken Word Poetry as Medicine: A SEL Practice of Celebration and Identity for Indigenous and POC Youth

This article was published online at "Education First," website. Authored by NACA educator, NISN team member and City of ABQ Poet Laureate, Jessica Helen Lopez, "Spoken Word Poetry as Medicine: A SEL Practice of Celebration and Identity for Indigenous and POC Youth," was published on July 7, 2018.

July 7, 2018. ABQ, NM - A young poet walks onto the hardwood floor of an illuminated stage. She positions herself within the bright orb of a theatrical flood light. A heavy and deep red velvet curtain provides the backdrop and frames her and a single microphone.  She takes a moment, breathes inaudibly and assesses the audience with an even gaze.  It is a packed house and the expectant faces look back at her, hushed with anticipation. Her first words are not poetry, rather an introduction of her clans spoken in Diné.  Her voice is strong and clear.

Yá’át’ééh, shik’éí dóó shidine’é Shí éí Kya yinishyé Ta’neeszahnii nishłį́ Dzi ł t ł’ahnii bashishchiin Hashk’ąą hadzohi dashicheii Kiyaa’áanii dashinalí Ákót’éego diné asdzáán nishłį́ Shimá éí Monica wolyé Dóó Shi’zhé’é éí Garrick wolyé Tʼiistsʼóózí déé’ naashá Ahéhee.’

“Kya” is Navajo, seventeen years old and loves to write. She struggles to balance home life and school work.  On most days she is a vibrant, smiling student, who likes to doodle on her hands with a ballpoint pen.  On other days, she is withdrawn, lethargic and unsmiling.  On these days she is quiet and not willing to share in class.  Nonetheless, she continues to scrawl verses of poetry in her tattered, beloved journal that she carries everywhere she goes.

As her poetry teacher and mentor at the Native American Community Academy (NACA) and an educator for the last eighteen years, I observe and understand that Kya will have good days and bad days. This is very much like a good portion of the students I have worked with in almost the two decades I have taught in middle schools, high schools, summer programs, and even in detention center charter schools across New Mexico.

The bottom line I have always found, is that reading, writing and performing poetry engages students to work through familial, communal, social, and emotional issues. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills. And it is always of the utmost importance to honor student culture and language while doing so.  This is especially imperative for Indigenous youth and students of color. It is my responsibility as an educator to provide robust and culturally-relevant and specific curriculum for my students; curriculum that is not only rigorous, but also framed through the lens of social and emotional wellness.

This means that in the classroom, we must honor the vast and heterogeneous cultural histories, traditional practices and contemporary, intersectional identities of Indigenous and POC peoples across Turtle Island and beyond. Our poetry and classroom texts must reflect the young people sitting in the desks looking back at us, and not just the prescribed Western canonized works of a select few. Additionally, it is then that we educators will find ourselves contextualizing social and emotional learning through a strength-based approach that celebrates students and where they come from, as well as where they plan to go.  Poetry and the act of performing—sharing your stories with others—can work to cultivate a strong positive cultural identity for young people that is, in turn, ultimately consistent with academic achievement.

Joy Harjo, a Muskogee and Creek Nation poet, writes, “The poetry ancestors scattered to all parts of the world. Each family of trees, animals, wind, stones needed a poet.”

Harjo celebrates the word as a living and organic organism. It is a legacy of our ancestors and we are the honored descendants. Kya understands this. She says her medicine is administered through writing free verse and she code-switches fluidly between Diné and English in her poems. When she is anxious she writes about it. When she is depressed or experiencing a conflict with a peer, she writes about it. When she is angry or frustrated with the world, she writes about it. Like Harjo, Kya knows that every emotion, too, is need of a poem.

Kya writes about a lot of different topics. She writes of baby sisters and little brothers, Changing Woman, best friends, the continued epidemic of missing and murdered Native women, pow wows and her favorite punk rock bands. Kya has become well-aware that her knack and love for writing poetry and storytelling is a powerful medicine that promotes self-care, health and emotional wellness. It is also a platform for her to opine on the ways she perceives the injustices and inequities of the world. It is a platform to be heard and to hear others.

Speaking of her journey with poetry, she says, “For me poetry has been a way to get a lot of my emotions out. For a long time I was holding a lot of things in and that led to me actually hurting myself and hurting the people around me, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.”

She goes on to say, “I had to find a way to let it all out, and through poetry I was able to share that with the people I love, as an explanation for what was happening to me that I couldn’t actually voice in a regular conversation. Poetry really is a cathartic way for me to be myself. I am from my mother, and in the Navajo tradition you are from your mother’s clan. So, I am Tangle People and I am a poet.”

At NACA, representing over 65 plus tribal affiliations among our student population, it is our mission to engage students, educators, families, and community in creating a school that will prepare our students to grow from adolescence to adulthood and begin strengthening communities by developing strong leaders who are academically prepared, secure in their identity and healthy. It is the language of our vision and mission that informs the DNA of our school culture. The NACA community and experience will help students incorporate wellness and healthy life practices, community service and an appreciation of cultural diversity into their lives.

Our best practices of social and emotional learning start with the fundamentals of honoring where we come from. Essentially, it is a holistic and traditional circle of understanding ourselves in relation to our origin stories, relatives, and the world around us.

Social and emotional wellness is one in the same with our NACA personal wellness wheel, a visual tool that helps to guide our students in representing our core values of culture, community, responsibility, respect, reflection and perseverance. It is also a framework for our curriculum design across content and grade levels. Our wellness wheel is centered in a respect for Indigenous knowledge, thus a respect for our young students of our school.

The merits of spoken word poetry are plenty. Students are prompted to write about their own experiences, to imagine a world where physics need not to be applied; break barriers of imagination using imagery, hyperbole, alliteration, and even lyricism. Students write about celebration of self and of hardships endured. The act of writing with others in the room creates an immediate bond between peers. The act of sharing it aloud deepens it further. Poetry and spoken word align themselves with a standards and benchmarks, a plus for teachers, but also in its own way is completely unbridled and uncensored. Writing and performing original poetry is a transformative event for young people, in which they take ownership of their own learning, as well as the stories that connect all of us.

In the words of the young poet Kya, who shares her story in only the way she unequivocally and uniquely can,

I’ve been judged and ridiculed,

been asked if my people are even alive.

Are you kidding me? We aren’t just

alive. We are fighting and thriving and rhyming and winding

through all the tribulation branded into these bodies

inherited from our ancestors.

Twenty-one plus generations of wise perceptions

greater than Socrates himself contained in my sacred vessel—

Because I am,

we are,

invoking change.


November 29th, 2017 | Author: Jessica Lopez

Poetry empowers our indigenous youth! For the first time ever, the Native American Community Academy will send students to recite poetry and compete at the New Mexico Poetry Out Loud (NMPOL) State Finals event in March 2018. For the past 12 years more than 10,000 high school students across New Mexico have participated in the Poetry Out Loud state recitation competitions, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), The Poetry Foundation and New Mexico Arts, a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Here is the low-down on what prizes are up for grabs. At the state level, the first-place winner will receive $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete for the national championship. The state champion’s school library will receive a $500 stipend toward the purchase of poetry books. The runner-up will receive $100, and $200 for his or her school library. The national competition awards a total of $50,000 in prizes and school stipends at the national finals. The national champion will receive a $20,000 prize.

That’s a lot of dough awarded for poetry! Also, importantly it is an opportunity for our Indigenous youth to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the power of poetry, storytelling and the art of public speaking.  This is a platform for visibility and representation for Native American students, thus a chance for students to share their NACA Core Values and build leadership skills that will prepare them for college and beyond.

The NEA and The Poetry Foundation have created standards-based curriculum materials for participating schools to use. NACA students will select from over thousands of published and luminary classical, modern and contemporary poets ranging from Shakespeare to William Butler Yeats to Sherman Alexie, Joy Harjo and Jimmy Santiago Baca. On Friday, January 26, 2018, the NACA Main Campus will host a school-wide competition to select the lucky NACA student to move on to State Finals in Santa Fe, NM (March 2018).  There, the NACA representative will compete against a dozen other schools from across New Mexico for a chance to compete at the Nationals event in Washington, DC and a grand prize of $20,000.

Several NMPOL workshops have been facilitated at both NACA Main and Law Campus.  Several more are scheduled for near future. This competition is open to 9-12th graders only.  If you are a NACA student who is interested and have not already signed up please reach out to Ms. Emily Beenan, Ms. Katherine Page or Ms. Jessica Helen Lopez.  You may reach Ms. Lopez at  More information and promo flyers to come!