Waves Making Waves: Mandy Smoker Broaddus (‘97)
A homicide rate more than double that of Detroit’s. Higher than average domestic abuse and sexual assault cases. Soaring unemployment levels.
One may expect these problems from an urban environment. But they are actually the recent statistics of a small community of about 7,000 on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana.
Considering this myriad of societal issues, it’s almost easy to understand how education would also be a large deficit in the community; if kids are preoccupied with serious financial and emotional problems at home, learning in school can be much more difficult.
Disproportionately high poverty and unemployment rates appear in many Native American reservations around the state and country, along with lacking education. In fact, Montana’s lowest performing schools were all on American Indian reservations.
“Unfortunately, these kids come to school with many of the chips stacked against them. The hardships loom large and make the work of education difficult,” said Mandy Smoker-Broaddus (‘97), Director at the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI).
“After some nights, it is a miracle that they can even make it to school. They are just as talented, artistic, humorous, loving, and intelligent as any other young person – and they deserve great educational environments where their culture is honored, where their talents are grown, and where they can feel safe and loved and challenged,” she said.
And now they are getting those educational environments. A few years ago, the Montana OPI received a large federal grant to help improve schools with the greatest need.
Mandy, a Seaver College graduate, has served since 2009 as the Director of Indian Education for the state. Three years ago, she became the director of the $11.5 million grant, overseeing the turnaround efforts in three low-performing schools (all on reservations).
For Mandy, the work is also personal.
“One of the schools is in my hometown on the Fort Peck Reservation where I worked as principal and dean of students before. This made the work especially personal to me, because I have cousins who work and teach in the schools, nieces and nephews who attend there, and I have always wanted what’s best for my small, rural community.”
Coming from a Church of Christ family, Mandy said Pepperdine was always her first choice for college. After studying English at Seaver, she went on to earn two master’s degrees, one from UCLA and the other in her home state of Montana.
“My Pepperdine experience certainly helped shape me and also gave me the skills to do work on behalf of others,” she said.
Her father also instilled a service attitude in her from a young age, helping to spur her career in education.
The School Improvement Grant (SIG) revised the schools’ curricula and brought in specialists to increase support for the students and families. Community liaisons worked with parents on increasing student engagement and school success. Instructional leaders were placed in each school. Support for behavioral and trauma issues was provided to students and adults to encourage positive safe school climates and respect. The grant also added summer school and after school opportunities. A plethora of other changes were made to improve schools, helping hundreds of students.
“I believe we can make a difference and I have committed myself and the 23 staff I supervise to working hard every day because nothing could be more important than giving these children the education they deserve. Only with an education can they go out and reverse the damaging trends, ones I know all too well from my own lived experiences. I have seen firsthand what alcoholism and poverty can do – but I have also seen the resiliency that these students demonstrate,” said Mandy.
“I believe in the work of public education, teachers and families working together to bring about change and equip the next generation with all the skills they need to achieve any dream they can dream.”