A group of children are around a table of crafts showcasing native american education.

Dreamstarter’s Mission to Elevate Native American Education

In honor of teacher appreciation week we want to show our love and appreciation for those who inspire and spark change. Running Strong for American Indian Youth is honored to spotlight a group of individuals who are not just shaping minds but also changing lives – our teachers. Through our Dreamstarter™ Teacher Grants, we aim to empower educators serving our youth through Native American education programs by providing them with resources to make their classrooms more impactful, inclusive, and inspiring.

The Impact of Dreamstarter™ Teacher Grants on Native American Education

The Dreamstarter™ Academy Grant program, founded in honor of Billy Mills, has been a beacon of hope for Native American youth since its inception. This initiative provides grants that support youth who dream of making a difference in their community, offering financial assistance, mentorship, networking opportunities, and communications training.

Then in 2017, Running Strong launched the Dreamstarter™ Teacher program as an expansion of our commitment to support the dreams of Native youth. We’ve extended these grants to school administrators, teachers, and other educators, equipping them with up to $5,000 to meet the unmet needs of Native American education.

Dreamstarter™ Teacher: A Catalyst for Change in Native Communities

In 2023, the Dreamstarter™ and Dreamstarter™ Teacher grant recipients played a pivotal role in Native American education. With a focus on environmental justice, health, cultural representation, and academic improvements, projects better communities, schools, and classrooms throughout Indian Country. The transformative power of education and community-driven initiatives was on full display, showing the world what can be achieved when young minds are nurtured and empowered.

Thanks to these grants, dozens of school administrators, teachers, school counselors, and librarians have made a lasting impact on the lives of their students. From fostering innovation through robotics clubs to creating cultural awareness through school-wide events, these educators are driving change in their communities, giving Native students opportunities to grow, learn, and explore.

Spotlight on Dreamstarter™ Teacher Class of 2023-2024

As we eagerly await the applications of this year’s potential Dreamstarter™ Teachers program recipients, let’s take a moment to celebrate and recall the phenomenal achievements of our 2023-2024 Dreamstarter™ Teachers. These educators have demonstrated an unshakeable dedication towards their Native students, their passion radiating in every endeavor they undertake. We’ve been incredibly inspired by how they’ve harnessed their grants to elevate and enhance their classrooms and also their communities. Their work has truly left an indelible mark, and we’re excited to see how the upcoming recipients will follow in their footsteps.

Becky Vordermann – Round Valley Elementary Middle School

Becky’s dream is to help her elementary students connect to their culture and develop lifelong skills by facilitating positive learning experiences that are nature based and culturally relevant to Round Valley Tribes. Her after school program will include weekly nature trips, in addition to interdisciplinary projects and a holistic approach to learning math, science, and language.

Brooke Gregory – Chief Leschi

Brooke’s dream is to support her students’ futures by providing enriched learning experiences, and exposure to different career paths. The Schoolwide Enrichment Model will provide students with in-school SEM days during which students can explore their talents, develop interests, and expand their skills and abilities while preparing them to succeed in the Career and Technical Education pathways that are available to them at the district high school.

Calli Rusche-Nichsolson – Billings Public Schools Indian Education Department

Calli’s dream is to provide cultural enrichment and promote a sense of belonging for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous students and their families in the Billings community. The All Nations Clubs will provide after-school enrichment activities where students and families can make their own regalia and learn traditional crafts. In addition, they’ll be able to participate in family fun nights, and have access to a network of academic support resources to ensure student success.

Connie Michael – Crow Agency Public School

Connie’s dream is to engage and inspire her students through hands-on and culturally relevant lessons. Standards and learning targets of 5th grade ELA and social studies will be taught through first person accounts from a Native American perspective, while Math and Science standards will be taught through place-based, and experiential lessons to better connect students to their ancestors.

Jesse Swann – Piscataway Conoy Tribe

Jesse’s dream is to oppose cultural erasure of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe and create opportunities for young tribal members to learn about their culture and connect with elders. Jesse’s out of school program will involve drumming, drum-making, traditional crafts, and regalia making free of cost to students.

Kristina Hyatt – Cherokee Central Schools

Kristina’s dream is to support her students and foster connections within her community by creating an after-school Homework Club. Students and guardians will be invited to gather at a local community space to receive help from tutors, participate in group read-alouds, and create a network of teachers and families that will support students reach their educational goals.

Mary Beth Lalka – St. Ann’s Catholic School

Mary Beth’s dream is to see her students succeed in academics and provide them with the highest caliber of education available. She will purchase new hands-on learning materials that will better engage students, and further develop science and social studies skills.

Meredith Schramm – Lehi Junior High School

Meredith’s dream is to promote cultural inclusion and representation in schools. This grant will allow Meredith to finish her second lesson plan book in Social Studies on Native American culture and acquire regalia for students to wear during presentations in school-wide cultural assemblies.

Rachel Davis – University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point

Rachel’s dream is for Native students to break cycles of generational trauma and have the confidence to achieve success in academia and beyond. She will invite 5 Native students to attend the Ninth Annual Native American Leadership Forum where they can network, and also learn from Native leaders.

Shannon Britton – Round Valley Elementary/Middle School

Shannon’s dream is to reduce rates of chronic absenteeism of students in her school by providing new and engaging in-school activity days. “Academics in Action” days will include a variety of themed lessons that focus on learning in Art and Sciences while having fun.

Tiffany Cacy – Tahlequah Public School

Tiffany’s dream is to practice early intervention against obesity and promote health in her community. She plans to purchase a variety of outdoor play equipment that will prompt active play and also start healthy habits for her students as primary prevention against chronic diseases.

Join Us in Supporting Native American Youth

As we celebrate our teachers, we invite you to join us in making a difference in the lives of Native American youth. Your generous donations to our Dreamstarter™ programs help us provide more grants to educators, empowering them to create lasting, positive changes in their communities and in Native American Education. Whether it’s funding for a field trip, resources for a school library, or support for a cultural event, every bit counts. Donate today and help us keep dreams alive in Indian Country.

Help American Indian Youth by Donating Today!