The Morongo Band of Mission Indians is located near Banning, California and has approximately 1,000 members. Through the careful development of their gaming and non-gaming enterprises on their 32,000-acre reservation throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Morongo tribe has completely eliminated welfare dependency on the reservation and become the largest employer in the region.
Both the gaming and non-gaming enterprises are generating new demands for tribal management and administration. Due to the small membership and its current lack of education and training, Morongo tribe has recruited many non-members to meet staffing requirements. Presently 2/3 of the employment represented by Morongo’s 3,000 full-time positions accrues to the surrounding community.
To encourage and nurture the tribe’s long-term goals of self-sufficiency and self-determination, the tribe is dedicated to making sure its children receive the education and training to participate in Morongo’s economic development and to serve in leadership positions in their tribal government.
Despite the importance of education to protecting the tribe’s future sovereignty, Morongo tribal leaders realized in the early 1990’s that education was not given enough importance among tribal families. Due in part to negative economic factors, many tribal members and descendants never finished high school.
Reservation families were alienated from the local school district, feeling that they did not have a voice in their children’s education and that local Native cultures were not represented in the school’s curriculum. Schools promoted Native students from grade to grade without ensuring that they had learned basic skills like reading. State test scores were low and ethnic group absenteeism was very high.
To meet these challenges, the Morongo Tribal Council created the Morongo Tutoring Program in 1991. The Morongo Tutoring Program was aimed at improving academic skills following state guidelines and accelerating reading levels.
The individualized focus of the program allows tutors to identify potentially at-risk students early in order to cultivate their study skills and to develop their self-esteem through positive reinforcement.
Until 1999, the Morongo Tutoring Program employed a single tutor to go from school to school on a daily basis to work with students; talk to teachers; encourage school attendance; and act as a liaison between reservation families and the Banning School District. When Morongo signed its gaming compact in 1999, it was able to begin dedicating gaming revenue to the program and subsequently it began to expand.
Fourteen tutors now serve more than 175 Morongo tribal members and descendants (to the second generation) both in and out of the classroom, in kindergarten through twelfth grade. In a unique agreement with the school district, this program allows tutors to assist in the classroom. Tutors then help with homework through more one-on-one guidance after school on the reservation. Because Morongo tutors follow individual students for a minimum of two to three years, they are in an excellent position to advise classroom instructors about possible teaching strategies.
The Morongo Tutoring Program also operates a summer school program recognized by the Banning Unified Schools. During the summer break, Morongo students, grades kindergarten through eighth, participate in an individualized course of study. Instructors teach reading and writing using Native culture and related topics to spark student interest and create an engaging atmosphere for learning. Weekly field trips provide students with subject matter for writing assignments.
Thanks to the efforts of the Morongo tutors, the high school graduation rate on the Morongo Indian Reservation is now approximately 90%, the highest in tribal history. In addition, Banning Unified Schools credits this program with increased attendance among Morongo students, and with vastly improved grades. Test scores for Morongo students have risen dramatically, and students are continuing their educations beyond high school. The Morongo Tutoring Program enrolls approximately 65 to 70 students in its summer program, and more than 80% finish the entire six weeks.