Robert Cook - Executive Director, NAI

Message from Sr. Managing Director, Robert Cook

I'm an enrolled citizen of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. For over twenty years I was a teacher and school administrator in tribal schools in South Dakota. Native children experience some of the highest levels of poverty in our country, which greatly impact their academic and life options. I joined this movement to ensure that there would never again be times when our students start the school year without great teachers. Less than 1% of the teaching force self-identifies as American Indian, Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian—even in areas with high Native student populations. We can do better. We must do better for the next generation.

In 2010, Teach For America launched the Native Alliance Initiative to deepen our partnership with Native communities. Currently, over 400 corps members are teaching more than 9,000 children from Native backgrounds.

Through the work of the South DakotaOklahomaNew Mexico and Hawai'i regions, Washington State and Twin Cities satellite regions, the Native Alliance Initiative will:

  • Provide an Additional Source of Effective Teachers
    We will grow our presence in Native community schools to over 1,400 corps members by 2015. This will triple our annual reach to 52,000 Native children per year (nearly 10% of Native students in the United States). We will also focus on recruiting more American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian corps members, and by 2015 we will be one of the top national recruiters of Native leaders into the education field.
  • Advance Student Achievement and Increase Opportunities through Culturally Responsive Teaching
    Our teachers will work relentlessly to help their students reach their full potential. We will continue to strengthen our training and support so that more corps members become transformational leaders. We will build examples of outstanding culturally responsive teaching. We hope to serve as a national model for the implementation of such teaching.
  • Partner with Native Organizations and Governments
    We will bring strong partnerships with Native organizations and governments to raise awareness, collaborate on teacher recruitment and training, and accelerate our collective impact.
  • Build an Alumni Leadership Pipeline
    Teach For America alumni have already begun to effect large-scale change in Native communities. We will build an increasing force of leaders to advocate for Native education equity.

We are excited and empowered by this work and encourage you to learn more and join us.

— Robert Cook,


Teach For America is an awesome resource for isolated educational institutions. They helped us fill certified teaching positions at our high schools. Our teachers understand the importance of education, and help to advocate and promote education within the school environment.

Barry L. Mann, St. Francis Indian School Administrator, Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota


NAI In the Classroom

Name: Rachel Henderson

Hometown: Gallup, NM

Tribal Affiliation: Navajo (Bilagáana and Kinyaa'áanii)

University: New Mexico State University

Corp: New Mexico Corps 2013

Placement School: Gallup Middle School

Subject Taught: 6th and 7th Special Education

“As Gallupians, we share the rich culture. Gallup is probably the definition of diverse - everything from the people who live there to the weather to the landscape.  I remember when I graduated from high school, I swore to myself I would get out of New Mexico.  I believed if I had gone to school anywhere but New Mexico, I would have more opportunities and have a better education.  It was not until the two weeks before I started at Gallup Mid that I was exactly where I wanted to be.  I wanted teach those students who could make a difference in the world, their country, their state, their community and in themselves. Serving my community means I teach kids like me. They need a teacher who can tell them the can do amazing things because that is what they are—already amazing. “


Name: Stephen Bell

Tribal Affiliation: Lumbee

Hometown: Greensboro, NC

University: North Carolina State University

Corp: Oklahoma Corps 2013

Placement School: Hale Junior High

Subject Taught: 7th and 8th grade Science

“I love the people in my community. As I've grown close to my students and some of their families I have come to cherish my relationship with them. It is sometimes hard to hear about home life and frustrating when there are days I feel like they don't listen to me or care about my class. However, this spurs more of a motivation/desire to see them do well, and makes it so much more beautiful when they do. Teaching is both a stimulating joy and a grueling trial. I love the kids and am overwhelmed with the challenges they are faced with each day. I must cling to hope, that I feel is always in flux, and fight past my imperfections to teach, listen to, learn from, and help these kids to be the best they can. I believe education is taken for granted, but is a powerful tool that provides many opportunities.”


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In the News

It's Time to Rethink Native Mascots (by Matt Kramer)

Teach For America Corps Chooses Laguna Teacher

More Native American's join South Dakota Teach For America 

Teach For America Recognized for Native Alliance Initiative

Teach for America Named Top 50 Workplace for Native American Stem Professionals

Teach for America offers employment opportunities for TCU students

Teach For America Named Top 50 Workplace

Inspiring Native Children

Now That November is Over We can Forget About Native Americans

Oglala Sioux Tribe backs Teach for America

Rosebud Sioux Tribe Endorses Teach For America 

Not Just a Game: Why Native Sports Mascots Must Go 

Adil Nidli-Self-Respect, Perserverance, Self-Confidence (Ms. Dang’s Tattoo in Navajo)

We live in poverty, but we are not poor


Name: Kenton Hokoana

Hometown: Pahoa, HI

University: University of Hawai‘i, Hilo

Corp Year: Hawai’i Corps 2013

Placement School: Ho'okena Elementary School

Subject Taught: 4th and 5th grade looped with his students

My mindset is that I need to give back for what I've been given. Over my lifetime I've been given and afforded so much that I feel it's my time to give back and pay it forward. Another very important aspect to keep in mind is that, as teachers, our first duty is to our students. You must love working with children and be able to put your best foot forward each and every day. If interested in applying don't over-think about applying, just do it! When completing your application don't just say what you think the admissions department wants to hear, speak from the heart and put all of you into the process.”


Native Alliance Scholarship Fund

Back outstanding Native students on the path to college

Join us in supporting Native students as they go to college! The Native Alliance Scholarship Fund at Teach For America recognizes at least one college-bound high school senior each year who has demonstrated grit, integrity, and exemplary leadership. The NASF award helps offset the rising cost of books, clothing, and other supplies – necessities that can feel like luxuries – and ease the transition to campus life. It is funded entirely by small donations.