Web-Based Instructional Program Helps Advance American Indians in Arizona

In Flagstaff, Ariz., many Navajo and Hopi residents from nearby reservations have struggled to preserve their cultural traditions while adapting to urban lifestyles. Once settled, many realize that economic success in the urban environment requires at least a high school diploma or GED, so they seek alternative educational programs for themselves and their families. Native Americans for Community Action (NACA), a health and human services agency in Flagstaff that serves primarily off-reservation American Indians, has gone well beyond traditional methods of learning by offering its clients self-paced instruction over the Internet. Each year, more than 5,000 individuals and their families receive NACA services, such as career counseling, substance abuse education and prevention for youth, substance abuse intervention and treatment for adults, as well as tobacco and diabetes education.

NACA also has an Adult Education Program that is funded primarily by the Arizona Department of Education (www.ade.state.az.us), which currently gives the nonprofit organization $65,000 in annual funding. The program's mission is to offer adult basic education and GED preparation to all adults in a culturally appropriate environment. Holly Franquet, NACA's adult education director, describes her program as open, friendly and extremely understaffed. Thus, she needed to find an instructional program that provided every learner with individual attention, as well as the ability to work from home, a school computer lab or a public library.

Core Academic Needs

Last year, the Arizona Department of Education evaluated Achievement Technologies Inc.'s SkillsTutor, a Web-based instructional program that suited a variety of students' core academic needs. Franquet participated in an evaluation trial period after learning that SkillsTutor was aligned to state and national tests, including the Test of Adult Basic Education (T.A.B.E.), which she uses to identify students' skill deficiencies in reading, writing and math. Following the trial, NACA decided to implement SkillsTutor into its program.

Franquet says: "People come into our program with all kinds of needs. Our students are high school dropouts of all ages who initially test at between the first- and 12th-grade level. Some are actually high school graduates who need remedial work in reading, writing and math. We spend a good amount of time helping adults who have fallen through the cracks. SkillsTutor is accessible over the Internet, so it works extremely well for young people and busy adults who don't have child care or transportation, or those who struggle with basic English and math concepts."

Since January, more than 200 learners, ages 16 and up, have used SkillsTutor at NACA. Of these students, about 56 percent are American Indian, 26 percent are white, 15 percent are Hispanic, and Asians and African-Americans each make up about 1 percent. In addition, almost 60 percent of the students are between 16-24 years old and 33 percent are between 25-44. It's also interesting to note that 84 percent are low-income status and about 10 percent of the students have learning disabilities. But despite these figures, 25 students received their GEDs during the last program year. "Students didn't want to stop using the program," says Franquet. "I liked the variety of reading content and the stories built around history, including Native American history. We have people who don't like using workbooks but really do well on a computer program like SkillsTutor."

Valuable Learning Opportunity

Now that SkillsTutor is up and running, Franquet has been working hard to publicize it. "Some adult education programs use technology and others do not," she says. "SkillsTutor is a resource that allows me to accommodate different learning styles and learning difficulties. It is also a great program for K-12 schools for before, after and summer school remediation, as well as test preparation. The local Flagstaff Community Foundation funded SkillsTutor so that we could reach as many students as possible. I hope to involve both adults and children in our program soon."

NACA also uses an old integrated learning system (ILS), the cost of which Franquet says limits her to two licenses annually, allowing only two students to use the ILS simultaneously. She expressed her discontent with the extensive server requirements and maintenance issues required by the ILS. "With SkillsTutor, I don't have to do anything. Students go online wherever and whenever they choose, content is updated automatically and technical support is free," says Franquet. "SkillsTutor is definitely a valuable learning opportunity whether you are looking to get on track with your GED, brushing up on core competency skills or preparing for a community college placement test."

For more information on Native Americans for Community Action, visit www.nacainc.org.

Contact Information
Achievement Technologies Inc.
Columbia, MD
(888) 391-3245

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.