Dreamstarter Teachers Michelle, John, and Jennifer Continue to Transform Classrooms

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Our 2019-2020 Dreamstarter Teachers Michelle, John and Jennifer have all made significant impacts for the Native American students at their schools through increasing access to school supplies for families who cannot afford them, teaching students how to build underwater machines through hands-on experience, and teaching them more about the Native cultures, despite the challenges posed by the early closures of their schools caused by COVID-19.

Michelle Schoenfelder, Chamberlain Elementary, Chamberlain, South Dakota

Project: Increasing Access to School Supplies

When Michelle applied to become a Dreamstarter Teacher in 2019 her dream was to purchase school supplies and books for the students in the local community to ensure that students have all the tools they need for academic success.

Michelle’s school serves the Lakota/Dakota nations  and the tribal communities of Fort Thompson and Lower Brule. The school supplies, books some items of clothing she was able to purchase with her $1,000 Dreamstarter Teacher grant benefited 65 students ages 10 to 12.

Michelle told us in her Dreamstarter Teacher application that “Many of my students live in poverty, never knowing from one day to the next where they will be living, or where their parents are.

“These students have a lot of things going against them, but they also have a school community that wants to help them overcome the obstacles in their lives.”

Through her initiative, each student was able to select a book of their choice from the Scholastic Book Club, and provide many students with school supplies their parents would not have been able to afford. In addition, she was able to provide one student with a much-needed winter coat, and another with new clothes for school.

“This grant gave me the ability to buy the things that my students needed this school year,” Michelle reported earlier this month. “Many of my lower-income students never get the opportunity to do this.”

To the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth who make the Dreamstarter Teacher grant program possible, Michelle had these words of gratitude:

“The students and guardians were very appreciative of everything I was able to provide. All of the students were very excited to pick out their own book to buy.”

And to Running Strong national spokesperson, Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills himself, Michelle, who once had heard him speak at St. Joseph’s Indian School, said:

“You are such an inspiration to the residents of our small state. I feel very fortunate to have been able to hear you speak to some of the youth of my community.

“I want to thank you for all you have done to help the people here in South Dakota. Your generosity is a reflection of the type of person we should all strive to be.”

John Twichel, SAMS Middle School, East Jordan, Michigan

Project: Underwater Robotics

When John applied to become a Dreamstarter Teacher in 2019 his dream was to engage his students in underwater robotics and having them build machines that would travel underwater and retrieve, deploy and release items in a limited amount of time.

John is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) teacher who teaches sixth and eighth graders in the Sault Area Schools District who aims to engage and inspire his students through hands-on experiences that focus on teamwork, communication, problem-solving and technical skills.

The school serves the Chippewa Indians Tribe and the Sault Ste Marie Tribe who attend the predominately Native American school.

“In everything I do I aim to engage and inspire students,” said John in his Dreamstarter Teacher application. “I didn’t like school when I was a kid so I decided to make a difference and change the whole experience for students.”

John told us the Dreamstarter Teacher grant would “open new worlds and career choices to the my students” as teams of students work together to build a machine that travels underwater called Remote Operated Vehicles and compete against each other.

He explained that such machines are used in the real world by law enforcement, marine exploration, and more and each bot would be equipped with an on-board camera making them as real world as possible.

During the project, John told us that his students “experienced lots of problems, which is exactly why I do hands-on activities with them. We need to model and teach them have to fail well if we expect young people to do the same.”

His students had to wire the entire machine including all of the DC (Direct Current) circuits. Students learned how to use a multi-meter to read volts, amps and resistance, but most importantly how to use a multi-meter to diagnose problems along the way.

Unfortunately, the early closure of the school due to COVID-19 prevented plans to further his students’ underwater studies, but deemed the project a success.

“I have received multiple thank you notes from students that express how my class and way of teacher has changed their lives and some now want to become teachers!

“Thank you for making our classroom environment a better place to be.”

Jennifer Quintana, Northwest Middle School, Murray, Utah

Project: Strengthening Communities Through Real World Applications

When Jennifer applied to become a Dreamstarter Teacher in 2019 her dream was to expose students to elders, storytelling, Native language(s) and culturally-rich environments by tailoring lessons and field trips to align with indigenous history and culture.

In her Dreamstarter Teacher application, Jennifer explained that her school is located in an urban area where many of the residents struggle financially.

“There are multiple ethnicities represented at Northwest making the school not only diverse, but a wealth of culture and experience,” she told us, noting that the school serves the Ute Reservation and Dine, Ute and Hopi students.

“Our Native American students are involved with the school community. We want to encourage this and hope to create trust and build meaningful relations with all students.

“I believe by encouraging our students to connect and learn more about Native American culture we can create real connection with students and community.”

Jennifer’s goal was to explicitly teach lessons aligned with Native American history and current culture and upon completion, take her Native American students, as well as ones from another middle school, on a field trip to visit Monument Valley and meet with Native American teachers and elders on the Dine Nation.

“This would be an experience the students will hopefully never forget and a chance to connect to the people and sacred land.”

Jennifer reported this month that since the COVID-19 pandemic hit “it has been a very difficult time. As a Dreamstarter Teacher the coronavirus has negatively impacted our Running Strong program.

“We typically met once a month for lessons and field trips,” she told us. “We met as a group prior to school closing and had most of our field tripes scheduled for the month of May so as to avoid disrupting statewide testing requirements.

“This meant that most of our activities, as well as a school performance, have been put on hold until next year,” she reported. “We have tried virtual meetings, but those have been difficult due to lack of internet access.”

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