Bill Gates Lauds Native American Teacher For Promoting Cultural Identity
Bill Gates says that even as he grew up in Washington state, he has learned more about white settlers who descended upon the land in 1851 than the Native Americans who had populated Seattle and other areas for thousands of years.
Photo Insert: Gates shares a light moment with Washington State Teacher of the Year, Jerad Koepp.
In his Gates Notes on August 2, 2022, the Microsoft founder said he learned more about the Native Americans in his home state from this year’s Washington State Teacher of the Year, Jerad Koepp, who runs the Native Student Program in the North Thurston Public Schools located northeast of Olympia. Remarkably, he’s the first Native educator to receive the award, Gates noted.
Jerad, who is part of the Wukchumni tribe, doesn’t work in just one school. He sees around 200 Native students in 24 different schools across the district, which sits on traditional Nisqually land.
In addition to teaching classes on Native history and culture, he travels around the district to meet with Native students. And he offers professional development for teachers and administrators to help them serve the students he works with.
“We’re looking at what impacts our student engagement, student retention, and how Native people being represented makes a big difference,” he told me.
“It was sobering to hear how badly the typical curriculum underrepresents Native people. ‘Over 80 percent of school textbooks don’t mention us after 1900,’ Jerad told me. And that has a real impact on young people: ‘If you see yourself being made invisible or misrepresented to other students, that wears you down.’ So sometimes his work is as basic as creating opportunities for Native students and their families to come together ‘and just be who we are for a little bit. Sometimes we talk about culture. Sometimes we just do homework, go over essays, or look at college applications,’” Gates said.