2019 Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Teacher Willamina Tailfeathers is a second grade teacher at Browning Elementary in Browning, Montana “located on the beautiful Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
“Our backyard is the ‘Backbone of the World,’ the gorgeous Rocky Mountains,” Willamina told us in her application for a $1,000 Dreamstarter Teacher grant for a cultural immersion classroom.
“I became a teacher because I was raised to give back to your community,” she said. “Although I do not teach on my own reservation, my children and my husband are enrolled members here, so this is where we make our home.”
She describes her community as a high poverty, low income area where 100 percent of the school’s students are getting free/reduced price lunch, and the student body population is 98 percent Native American.
“I am passionate about making language a priority and that it is worthy of being saved,” she said, noting that her class is a dual-language class, with 50 percent of their learning done in the Blackfeet language.
Through her Dreamstarter Teacher project, Willamina hoped to bring in more opportunities for cultural activities for her students, bring in more language to all aspects, and use materials that have more of the Blackfeet language posted in her classroom and throughout the school.
Willamina used her grant funding to bring in Native American art to the children in her classroom, including materials to make dream catchers, rain sticks, chokers and other crafts with a Native American influence.
“One of my boys, Paul, leads a very sheltered life,” she reported. “His family rarely does anything together. For me to be able to provide him with the materials and knowledge to create his own dream catcher was amazing.
“When Paul was doing his research on this project he said that he didn’t know that the dream catchers came from a Native American tribe. It opened up his world a little bit more. Which I love!”
Another boy, Dwight, has suffered many tragedies and the loss of close family members over the past few years.
“He has had many absences as a result of this,” she said. “Being able to provide Dwight with new and interesting material has helped him want to be in school more often this year. He is a bright little boy and using his hands to create something has more appeal to him than trying to read.”
Willamina commented that many of her students see crafts in stores in tourist places without realizing that many of the handmade crafts did not originate in those stores.
“They were able to do research and they now know that the dream catcher started with a Native American tribe. They know the purpose of it and how it was made. They know what the original materials used were, and what is used to make them today.”
She added that using the grant funding she bought materials to make artifacts that originate from other tribes in order to expand their knowledge of other Native Americans throughout Indian Country.
“The students all researched the artifact and tribes it came from, they were then able to type up their research into a document, add pictures and print them out,” she explained. “The children became more knowledgeable about other tribes in the United States, and they were able to create their own artifacts and take them home to the pride of their families.”
In addition, she also purchased a variety of games in the Native language of her students that were used in the school’s two language immersion classrooms.
“Through the games in the language kits they became more fluent at speaking, responded faster to the prompts – and have a lot of fun.”
Willamina noticed a significant improvement in her students who were consistently scoring low on assessment tests who were able to competently, and with much enjoyment, create their artifacts.
“The children were partnered with another child and were able to be read to, and they dictated their papers to their partner,” she said. “So they were able to complete their artifacts on their own.
“This is a huge accomplishment for my lowest performing students.”
Following the completion of her project, Willamina had nothing but gratitude to Running Strong for the opportunity to be a Dreamstarter Teacher, and particularly to our supporters who make it possible.
“This has been a source of pride for me and my students this year. We enjoyed the activities that I was able to come up with the and we had a lot of fun learning new things together.
“Thank you for allowing me to provide this amazing opportunity for my students.”