John Price of Rock Hill, South Carolina, is an 8th-grade social studies teacher at Castle Heights Middle School serving the Catawba Nation whose goal is to establish an enrichment class exclusively for Native American students.
“The purpose of my Dreamstarter Teacher Project was to create a Native American Enrichment program that would address the academic, social and mental health needs of our Catawba students, while raising cultural awareness throughout our school and community, and provide leadership opportunities for our Catawba students,” he reported in November.
John created what he called an “enrichment group” – the Catawba Youth Council – which organized a Catawba Cultural Awareness Assembly that featured tribal dancers, storytellers and drummers who performed for the entire school student body.
“We were very successful in raising cultural awareness throughout our school and community. Through the assembly, the entire school was immersed in the rich history and culture of the Catawba people,” he said. “Our CYC students worked alongside tribal elders to perform the Jingle Dress dance, the Hunter’s Dance along with traditional drumming and singing.
“At the end of the assembly, the entire school was given a rubber bracelet with the words “Ye Iswa,” which is Catawba for the ‘River People.’”
In addition, John said with his $1,000 Dreamstarter Teacher grant, he was able to provide CYC members with a great opportunity to become school and community leaders.
“These students organized and carried out various school and community projects that required them to plan and interact with adults to reach their goals. Many students took on leadership roles and met with administrators, teachers, community and tribal leaders in order to accomplish these projects.”
He also noted that the activities conducted by the CYC instilled pride and confidence in the participants.
“By allowing our Catawba students to be front and center and allowing them to show off their heritage and culture translated into an increase in pride among these kids.
“In the beginning, we struggled to get 20 students to participate in our program, by the end of the year, I was overrun with students, even non-Catawba students, that wanted to be a part of our group.”
John recounted how the life of one of his students, Madison, was transformed through her participation in the CYC — and how she went on to shape the lives of several special education students at the school.
A few years ago, the school hosted a Special Olympics event, which included a softball throw, and as the softball coach he recruited some of his players to help train the Special Olympics participants for the competition.
Madison, who he described as “a very shy girl” reluctantly volunteered to help and she spent the next few days working with the athletes on their technique.
“After this experience, Madison told me that she wanted to be a special education teacher,” he said.
A year later, as a member of the CYC, Madison was among those who participated in a new program called “Reading Buddies” to select a storybook to read to the special education students.
“Madison was a natural,” John reported. “As the weeks went by, she began to really embrace this project and was constantly coming up with opportunities to interact with her ‘Reading Buddies.’
“One day, the head of the special education department came to me and told me that Madison was not only reading storybooks with his students, but she was also developing lessons about her Catawba culture and sharing them with her ‘Reading Buddies’ as well.
“She created lessons, shared her culture, and made a huge impact on the lives of those kids.
“At the 8th grade graduation, Madison was awarded “The Nopkehee Leadership Award,” named after the great Catawba Chief, and her ‘Reading Buddies’ were on stage cheering and crying as she accepted her well-deserved award.
“It is quite possibly the most rewarding experience I’ve had as a teacher.
“And just think, this real-life experience and the lessons Madison was able to learn from her interaction with those kids couldn’t have happened without the Dreamstarter Teacher program.”
John commented that while there may be room for improvement, “but for our first year, I think we far exceeded anyone’s expectations.
“I evaluated the success of my program by the overwhelmingly favorable responses I received from students, parents, the Catawba Nation, our school district’s superintendent, our school administrators, our school board, and others.
“The response to this program has been overwhelming. I have received an outpouring of support from everyone. It has truly been a blessing.”