Jenna LaViolette Smith Dance Maker Dreamstarter Teacher Nut Cracker

Mid-Year Report from the 2020-2021 Dreamstarter Teachers!

Over the summer our Dreamstarter Teachers worked tirelessly to coordinate their Dreamstarter Teacher plans to adapt to the COVID-19 classroom restrictions. Because of the love for their students and their passion to improve the lives of Native children, we are proud to present some mid-year reporting on the progress of their projects!

Candis Yazzie in Tuba City, AZ

Glow Germs

Candis Yazzie (Navajo) is a K-5 Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) teacher at Dzil Libei Elementary and Tsinaabaas Habitiin Elementary schools in the Tuba City Unified School District on the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

Her Dreamstarter Teacher project is to first have students understand the importance of frequent hand washing by using a glow lotion to simulate germs, then wash their hands to see how many “germs” remain. The project included inviting language/culture teachers, parents and community volunteers to teach how traditionally Yucca Root is used as a soap.

The third component was to have the students construct a total of six portable hand washing stations that will be distributed to people in the community who do not have running water, but, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to make adjustments.

“We have been adjusting all semester to our new learning and teaching environment,” she told us. “The news of the support of the Dreamstarter Teacher grant was a much-needed morale booster. Teachers were excited when our packages arrived with materials for the project.

“I have been able to purchase the ‘Glow Germs’ kits, and some other needed materials to conduct the activity,” said Candis. “Our local CERT team has volunteered their time to help with hand washing station construction.

“The original plan was to have students help in construction, but we will now make a video and share with students.

“I have been in coordination and planning stages for the second portion of the project with the culture and language teacher. However, since we are now working from home, that will also require some other approach.”

Candis said she has also acquired most of the the pieces needed to construct the hand washing stations and is looking forward to constructing them in the spring “when it’s a bit warmer.”

John Twichel in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)

John Twichel (Sault Tribe) is a sixth and seventh grade STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher at the Sault Area Middle School in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan.

His Dreamstarter Teacher project is to teach his students how to code and program a micro-controller called an “Arduino” to make a variety of projects, including how to pilot the underwater robots they made with his previous Dreamstarter Teacher grant using an analog joystick.

“Our school has been remote learning the last six weeks but returned today with enthusiasm,” John reported on January 4. “We are looking forward to starting our computing coding soon.”

John explained his Dreamstarter Teacher project to a local newspaper in the fall about teaching his students how to code and program a micro-computer called an Arduino to make a variety of projects, including how to pilot the underwater robots they made with his previous Dreamstarter Teacher project.

“The power of coding has limitless learning opportunities,” he said in the article. “Arduino is an open-source platform used for building electronic projects consisting of a physical programmable circuit board and student-written computer code.

“The level of student engagement has been outstanding,” he added, noting students are learning things like grit, determination and perseverance, and “that’s where the magic happens.

“Teachers and educators who inspire Native youth have chosen a sacred path. Especially now, we need creative, strong teachers for our youth to guide them through a school year like none other before.

“I’m proud to support their bright futures and dedication through Dreamstarter Teacher.”

Jenna LaViolette in Pawhuska, OK

Dance Maker

Jenna LaViolette (Osage) is also a 2016 Running Strong Dreamstarter who is continuing to realize her dream of teaching Native-inspired ballet and dance in the public school system in Pawhuska Elementary School in Oklahoma where she teaches third and fourth grade students.

Her Dreamstarter Teacher project is to be able to continue teaching ballet during students’ physical education classes noting that since dance has been included in the curriculum she has noticed an improvement in their grades, and they are more focused and disciplined.

“As you know, it’s been one crazy year,” commented Jenna. “We are focusing on 3rd through 5th graders in the public schools this year. We wanted to reach children who could follow direction, especially the physicality of dance.

“About 20 of our Dance Maker students did not come back to the studio after Covid hit,” she reported. “Going into the school system has helped us draw in a few new students to Dance Maker. The Osage Nation has funded a couple of them and we have secured scholarships for the others.”

Jenna told us that she had been able to continue with dance classes and hold their Nutcracker Ballet in a safe manner.

“Flexibility was our key word for Nutcracker this year,” said Jenna. “We generally sell 600 tickets for our two Nutcracker performances, but because we could only seat every other row in the theater, we only sold 300.

“Of course, masks were required and each group was ushered in 6′ apart and ushered out. The community worked together to make it work because we ALL needed a night out!

“It really helped our students get their minds off of the pandemic and on having fun sharing the fruit of their hard work. It was a success!

“We are continually grateful to Running Strong for American Indian Youth® for the moral and financial support.

“We are able to accomplish a lot more for our students because of being part of the Dreamstarter programs.”

Connie Michael at Crow Agency Public Schools

Crow Culinary Creations

Dreamstarter Teacher Connie Michael (Crow) is a fifth grade math, science, English language arts and social studies teacher at the Crow Agency Public School in Billings, Montana on the Crow Reservation.

Her students range in age from 10-12 due to the high rate of retentions in the school which is 100 percent Native, representing primarily Crow but also Cheyenne and a few other cultures.

Connie is using her grant to build a curriculum to support a home economics after school program and provide them with the ability and knowledge to shop for and cook healthy foods while incorporating budgeting and measurement lessons.

“I have purchased the materials to begin my project but due to the Covid virus and restrictions my class has been limited in their involvement,” she reported in December.

“With that being said, I am planning on beginning to incorporate Native foods and preparation into my classroom this next quarter,” Connie told us. “The students are very excited and as I bring in more supplies they continue to ask when we will begin.”

Olivia Penny in Cullowhee, NC

Life Skills Classroom Supplies

Olivia Penny (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) teaches life skills to sixth, seventh and eighth grade students at Cherokee Middle School in Cherokee, North Carolina, in rural western North Carolina on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal reservation.

Her Dreamstarter Teacher project is to provide new culturally-appropriate books by Native writers so her students can learn more about their culture, identity and history.

“I has been an interesting semester to say the least,” Olivia reported. “Our kids have stayed remote with virtual learning and each time we have planned to bring them back in, cases spike and we go back to remote learning.”

So far, as teachers, Olivia and her colleagues were only physically in the classroom and teaching virtually for about two months and are now starting the new year remotely from home for at least a week.

“The newest tentative plan is from some kids to return around January 19,” she told us on December 30.

During the past semester, Olivia has been focused on getting more books and sensory items that can be cleaned and sanitized in the classroom and set up.

“For the spring semester, I am hopeful we can have kids physically in the classroom and can work on a few of the physical projects such as bead work,” she says.

“As of right now, and what time we had in the physical room, I have our new classroom library fixed up and use the books we ordered with the Dreamstarter Teacher grant every day on our virtual lessons.

“It has really helped having a larger selection of books to keep the kids motivated,” she added. “Another goal was to have more Native-authored books and some of those books are in.

“A few of my kids will be diving into those in the next few weeks and seem pretty excited to read them.”

And to the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth® who make the Dreamstarter Teacher grant program possible, Olivia wanted them to know:

“I also can’t express enough how grateful myself and my assistants are for this opportunity for our kids and the classroom! Seeing new books and sensory items seems to have renewed a little bit of excitement and motivation. Thank you!”

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