A private Roman Catholic university has been chosen to help school districts in seven Western states including Utah get federal money to promote American Indian education programs, officials said Friday.

The $1.3 million grant will enable Gonzaga University to help nearly 200 school districts apply for grants for programs addressing American Indian students' educational needs, said Janet Brougher of Gonzaga's School of Education.The grant to operate Gonzaga's Northwest Indian Education Technical Assistance Center for three years was announced this week by the U.S. Department of Education.

"The center accomplishes changes in attitudes and exposes non-Indian teachers to effective practices in Indian education," said its director, Raymond Reyes. "In our training we emphasize how cultural differences influence learning styles."

For instance, non-Indian teachers may need to learn how Native American children respond or learn differently in their classrooms, he said.

The programs try to overcome cultural biases, improve student performance or keep students from dropping out. In many cases, they develop ways to introduce more American Indian culture into a district's curriculum, Reyes said.

In addition to preparing grants, the center conducts workshops and helps districts implement programs once they've been created, Brougher said.

Beside Utah, the center's staff of four will work with school districts in Washington, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Oregon and Wyoming, Brougher said.

Gonzaga's Native American center is one of six across the United States and the only one affiliated with a university.