According to the Arizona Board of Regents, only 2% of teachers in the state are Indigenous, but the University of Arizona is trying to increase that number.

The University of Arizonas Indigenous Teacher Education Program is a two-year program that works toward combating this shortage, while also supporting its own Indigenous students on campus.

ITEP was created in 2016 through a grant from the US Department of Education. Since 2021, additional funding has been added from the Arizona Department of Education. Students in the program get tuition and fees covered, plus a living stipend.

ITEP Coordinator, Dana Wilcox-Frago said,The goal is to build the number of teachers in tribal communities.

Students take additional courses during their last couple of years in school to equip them to teach in schools with a high population of Native American students.

It makes a difference when it’s somebody who is familiar with your culture, your language, your community, who looks like you, Wilcox-Frago explained.

Augustina Bringsplenty-Marmion is an Elementary Education major who is in ITEP and said, I thought it’d be beneficial to work with Native youth to ensure they would have the opportunity to have someone who was passionate and cared about their language and culture.

ITEP student, Talia Sehongva shared that one of things she has enjoyed most is creating lesson plans that incorporate Native American topics.

She said, We co-created a curriculum unit surrounding issues like water, land and stuff like that.

Bringsplenty-Marmion said it is so important to teach these types of topics.

By empowering their voices and letting them know that their language and their identities are important, in their own ways they are going to be able to start translating that to the different people in their community, Bringsplenty-Marmion said.

The program has had 36 graduates and there are currently 18 teacher candidates who will be graduating within the next year.