Jonna Weidaw Culture

Dreamstarter Teacher Jonna Weidaw: Connect native youth with cultural leaders

Jonna Weidaw of Lakeport, California is a teacher of “all subjects” in a single room schoolhouse at the Lakeport Community Day School in the Lakeport Unified School District teaching members of the Pomo, Cherokee, Elem and Miwok tribes.

“As an educator I believe that every student deserves a school program in which their culture and identity is reflected across the curriculum and embedded as part of the school vision,” she told us in her Dreamstarter Teacher application.

Jonna used her $1,000 Dreamstarter Teacher grant for her “Leaders and Warriors” program to connect 60 Native youth with cultural leaders in the community and to continue bringing Native elders and leaders to the school to provide lessons on cultural practices and increase her students’ connections to their own cultural identity.

In addition, she reported “We were able to use our grant funds to provide students and families direct education and experiences through weekly Native American ethnic and cultural studies and harm reduction programs, workshops on Pomo basket weaving and cultural gathering practices, as well as workshops on elk drum making and wellness.”

Jonna said her students were pleased to learn about their cultural histories and see their culture represented in the curriculum and school activities.

“Students made their first baskets and several students continued weaving and signed up for cradleboard-making workshops outside of school,” she told us. “Students and their families made drums and shared songs that they created or were taught to them.”

The students who participated in the program “reported a drastic reduction of their use of alcohol, narcotics and vaping as reported by the Safe School Healthy Kids Survey.”

All of her students also participated in at least one Native American cultural activity, such as pow wows including 10 who used their drums and sang and danced at Big Valley Band of Pomo Indians Rancheria Tule Boat Festival. A couple of her other students and their families participated in the California Trail of Tears Walk.

 Jonna told us of one student in particular whose life was transformed through her Dreamstarter Teacher project.

The student, who she said has been diagnosed with high functioning autism and had been expelled from school, was referred to her program.

“He had no contact or connection with his tribe, but through the Leaders and Warriors program his interest in his heritage and connection with his tribe deepened,” she reported.

“He embraced the teaching that Native men are amazing basket weavers and wove his first basket – which he mailed as a gift to his Luiseño grandmother.

“The student’s mother was thrilled with the knowledge, connection and passion that her son had begun to embrace his culture.

“Never has my son been more proud of his heritage,” she said to Jonna. “Thank you for being the spark that reconnected our family.”

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