The newest edition of the Expanding the Circle: Respecting the Past, Preparing for the Future is designed for grades 9-12 and includes the culturally-relevant transition skills and project-based learning presented in the first edition, which has been in use across the U.S. since 2002 and adds to them. Based on work with thousands of American Indian high school and tribal college students, paraprofessionals, teachers, and administrators, the curriculum was created with the strengths and interests of students in mind and included the perspectives of family and community members. Although Expanding the Circle is designed for high school students, particularly ages 14 and older, students in middle school or their first year of college may benefit from the lessons as well.

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Importance of the Curriculum

Focusing on the transition years is critical in preventing students who are at risk of dropping out from actually leaving school. The review of the literature on transition programs finds that students are less likely to drop out of high school and college if they participate in programs that promote transition (Mizelle, 1999).

The period of transition from high school to postsecondary education and the early months in postsecondary education requires particular attention because, unless prepared for, it can be an uncharted course full of challenges and changes. Postsecondary exploration must be an intentional act that includes the American Indian student, family, role models, community, and school all working together toward the same goal.

Transition curricula are not new to the educational field. A wide variety of transition materials were originally developed in the disability community, and there is an impressive array of curricula to address the freshman year experience in college for those students who come to college underprepared for the academic rigors. A variety of materials also focus on the educational and cultural needs of American Indian students in the school setting. However, little has been developed to combine these components to address the specific and particular needs of American Indian youth in their transition to the post-high school experience.

Development of the Curriculum

Since 1996, with the assistance of federal funds from the U.S. Department of Education, work has been done with community members, teachers, administrators, tribal governments, students, and American Indian education staff to develop programs and activities specifically designed for American Indian youth to support them in their transition to postsecondary life. Programs were implemented during the summer and school year throughout Ojibwe and Dakota reservations and communities in Minnesota. Expanding the Circle was created as a result of these programs and is based on the following principles:

  • Believing in the resilience of American Indian youth and their communities.
  • Valuing humor in American Indian culture.
  • Honoring product and process. Some activities have products while others are more reflective in nature. The authors of the curriculum believe that the process and reflection are just as important as the products that are created.
  • Acknowledging sensitive topic areas. There are some areas in the curriculum that some individuals may feel are too sensitive or controversial, yet it is the belief that without addressing these issues, the transition process would not be complete.
  • Recognizing that although not all of the postsecondary options may be appropriate for all students, the purpose of exploration is to develop educated students who can make informed choices.

Organization of the Curriculum

The curriculum is organized into four themes. Within each theme are topical units, and each unit has multiple lessons. The themes and units are as follows —

Theme I: The Discovery

The Discovery provides activities that engage students in exploring more clearly who they are as an American Indian, as part of a family, a community, and as an individual. Lessons lead students to learn what kind of personal expectations they have for themselves, who their support system is, and how they learn. Using the information they acquire, they examine how the information is related to their world, how they respond to change, and how to identify and handle risk factors.

View a sample lesson from Theme I: The Discovery

Theme II: The Framework

The Framework focuses on foundational skills and information that are crucial for students when making their own plans for the future. This theme includes activities that allow students to explore specific skills in the areas of problem-solving, self-advocacy, communication, diversity awareness, goal-setting, and organization.

View a sample lesson from Theme II: The Framework

Theme III: The Choice

The Choice explores various post-high school options. Students first learn about the concept of life planning, specifically the life planning involved in the transition process from high school to post-high school life. Students then explore postsecondary educational, career, and military options based on their understanding of themselves and what they value. By the time students complete The Choice, they will have had exposure to the many options available after high school and will have made a plan for the choice/s that best suit them.

View a sample lesson from Theme III: The Choice

Theme IV: The Reflection

The Reflection includes culminating activities bringing together their experiences throughout the curriculum. These final exercises in the curriculum give students the opportunity to share with their support circle what they have learned about respecting the past, by putting their discovery, their framework, and their choices together as they prepare for the future.

View a sample lesson from Theme IV: The Reflection

Lesson Structure

Each unit of the curriculum includes lessons approximately 30–60 minutes to complete. Some activities can be ongoing and are noted as such. Each lesson plan is organized in the following manner —

  • Activity Name
  • Student Outcome
  • Portfolio Placement (Nigaan-Ozhiitaa System)
  • Time Frame
  • Size of Group
  • Before You Begin
  • Directions
  • Discussion
  • Closure
  • Additional Suggestions/Resources

Nigaan-Ozhiitaa System

The Nigaan-Ozhiitaa System, whose name is derived from Ojibwe words that mean "prepare for the future," is a personal portfolio system designed to help transition-age American Indian students plan for their future after high school in an organized and structured way. Consisting of 12 categories (see below), each of the file dividers features artwork by American Indian artists. Many Expanding the Circle student products can be organized within the Nigaan-Ozhiitaa System. One system is included with each curriculum. Additional systems are available for purchase.

The Nigaan-Ozhiitaa System has the following categories —

  • Accomplishments
  • Vocational/Work
  • Education
  • Medical
  • Support Circle
  • References
  • Recreation & Leisure
  • Residence
  • Transportation
  • Legal
  • Monthly Expenses
  • Financial Records

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