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Community / Identity

Sep 24, 2017 By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Students from the Wind River Indian Reservation made new friendships recently with students from a private middle school in Jackson.

Educators hope the new relationships go beyond one-time meetings to evolve into lasting collaborations for each student.

Indian Education for All

The meet-up represents one school's attempt to meet the standards of the Indian Education for All legislation the Wyoming Legislature passed this year, requiring teachers to educate students about regional American Indian tribes, including the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho.

Journeys School in Jackson was interested in implementing the bill outside of the classroom.

"In a private school there's more flexibility on how that's taught," said Laura Barr, the founder of e.Merging Educational Consulting in Denver who was hired by Journeys School to help create a "meaningful, impactful" curriculum.

"Why just use books when (these tribes) are our neighbors and they're three and half hours away?"

Barr and accompanying facilitators wanted to help their students form long-lasting relationships with their tribal neighbors by allowing them to work together to explore questions and activities that delved into their environment, personalities, friendships, and goals.

In its proposal, Journeys School stated it was prepared to find new ways to create long-term, sustainable relationships within the context of a place-based philosophy, and to create a long-term exchange with middle school students skilled in collaboration, communication and self-agency.

Communities

The curriculum, called the Bold Leader Collaborative project, and was presented to reservation school administrators and members of the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho business Councils for approval.

Once they gave the OK, 45 non-native students from Teton Valley and Jackson set out to the reservation with the intent to explore the question: How do cultural boundaries shape identity?

On Sept. 12, the students met with 45 of their peers from Wyoming Indian, St. Stephen's, Fort Washakie and Arapahoe schools at the Shoshone Boys and Girls Club in Fort Washakie. Facilitators assisted in getting students to explore the question and "enter into the humanizing process of collaboration with respect and honor."

Organizers said they hoped the experience would help create a "trusting and loving community so they could all learn from and with each other."

Once the community is solidified, student could feel more able to explore another question together: How do we blend communities and maintain identity?

Journeys School emphasized that the project was not intended to be a "fish bowl experience for non-native students to see how native students live, nor was it an agenda-driven curriculum to teach native students a way to lead or not to lead."

Take-aways

It was also noted that the project was not a way for the non-native community to try and "save and rescue the native community" of the reservation.

"They came with no agenda," Barr said. "It's about this group developing their own agenda."

In the following days, the students would ask themselves: What do they want to take away from this for their school and for themselves?

"And how do we keep it going?" Barr asked. "There's often a disconnect and divide, and we need to improve that."

The student participants had to practice being comfortable with the uncomfortable through the Bold Leader project, Barr said; they had to think critically, develop a new self-awareness, improve their listening competency, increase their capacity of dialogue, and enhance their curiosity and willingness to seek out different opinions.

Students also built a common language of self-agency within their schools and deepened their understanding of place and community while also becoming motivated to act in new contexts with one another.

Ultimately, Barr said the school will develop a curriculum that can be used by other institutions to meet the requirements of the Indian Education for All bill.

Sessions

The students who participated in the project this month split up into small groups for a variety of discussion sessions and activities.

"I'm being pushed out of my comfort zone," Journeys 13-year-old student Thor Jaramillo said. "It's good for me, and I'm learning the meaning of 'patience is a virtue.'"

Jaramillo and Wyoming Indian student Kalli Black, 12, were part of one group that sat in a circle to think of ways to maintain their communication long after the four-day visit.

'Buzz group'

At a different time of the day the students took part in a "Buzz Group" that encouraged them to participate, think out loud and listen while contemplating various questions. For example, they tried to explain Nurten Zaim's remark: "You will not get what you hope for; you will only get what you are willing to take."

Later, the group started a "Perspective Box" activity, during which they attempted to broaden their overall sense of awareness by learning about one another and exploring their own viewpoints compared to others'.

The students also wrote in journals, played games and shared lunch and free time together.

"It's good for everybody to have a change in pace," Jaramillo said. "I'm thankful we're doing this."

He said he and the other students were learning to get along with others, to be polite and have conversations - skills he expects he'll use when he gets older.

Black echoed his comments, suggesting the skills they were practicing would prepare younger kids for the future.

"I like it," she said with a smile.

She was also learning how to get along with others, in particular people she didn't know, while the Journeys students were also learning about her culture, Black added. Jaramillo agreed, saying he had noticed some of the reservation students were quiet and shy - behaviors he translated as being respectful.

His classmates could use more practice listening instead of talking, he noted.

"We always like to have side conversations," Jaramillo said.

By the second day of the visit Barr said she noticed some native students who were opening up and being more talkative. She expressed hope that the project would develop into a sustainable program that fosters relationships on and off the reservation.

"We thought, well, we don't have a way so let's think of ways," Barr said. "Everybody in the state can benefit from this."

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2017-10-17

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