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Dreamstarter Teachers Tiffany Cacy and Casy Cann progress despite school closures

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Our 2019 cohort of Dreamstarter Teachers have experienced many challenges posed with the closure of their schools in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they have risen to those challenges and adapted to ensure that their projects continued onwards.

Among them are Tiffany Cacy and Casy Cann who recently submitted their end of year reports.

Tiffany Cacy, Sequoyah School, Tahlequah, Oklahoma

Project: Large Motor, Large Success

When Tiffany Cacy applied to become a Dreamstarter Teacher in 2019 her dream was to create a space at the school for students to exercise gross motor skills. (Balance, hand-eye coordination, self-regulating behavior, spatial awareness, etc.)

But that all changed with the closure of schools in the state that is just now beginning to enter Phase 2, “which means we are just now allowed to have small groups of organized sports. This is all pending a relapse in society of the amount of COVID-19 cases,” Tiffany reported this month.

“I fear that many parents will not allow their children to engage in these activities for fear of catching COVID-19 which will also add to the increase of the sedentary lifestyle.

“Due to the COVID-19 shutdown of our school (which has been closed since March 11), I have major concerns for our students in relation to their physical activity levels,” she said. “After contacting many of my families through distance learning, I have come to the realization that many of my students now lead a very sedentary lifestyle.

“I feel that post-COVID-19 shutdown, and the return to some normalcy, that I will see a very distinct increase in these levels.”

Tiffany is also hopeful looking forward to a new school year. The Sequoyah School is a rural, Title 1 school with 100 percent free and reduced-price school lunches due to its partnership with the Cherokee Nation.

“I feel, as a teacher, it will become a new goal in the upcoming school year to foster and encourage my students to bring and maintain healthy lifestyles which includes them being active throughout their lives.”

And she is also grateful to the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth for the funding of her project for her pre-K students, and she plans on applying again for a second grant “to add to this wonderful gross motor skills room that I have — thanks in a major part to you!”

Casy Cann, Round Valley Elementary and Middle School, Covelo, California

Project: Practical Application of Traditional Medicine

When Casy applied to become a Dreamstarter Teacher in 2019 her dream was to integrate traditional medicine into her classroom by having her students focus on one plant-based alternative and the process of creating it — from harvesting plants in a respectful way to make a salve.

Round Valley Elementary serves the Round Valley Indian Tribes, a Confederation of seven tribes: Wailacki, Nomlacki, Yukon, Pomo, Pit River, Concow and Little Lake in an exceeding rural community that is more than 80 percent Native or part-Native.

Casy told us that students’ homes lives are rarely stable.

“This year, only 20 percent of my class lived with two parents,” she said. “The rest of the class lived with a single parent, extended family or non-family-member households. Many of my students have experienced deep trauma in their young lives. It is so important for me to find a pathway for building trust with them.”

Prior to the closure of schools, Casy had a speaker give a presentation to her students on the traditional medicinal applications for plantains — a local plant abundant in the community.

At the conclusion of the presentation, the speaker was peppered with questions by her students wanting to know more.

“Bouncing off of the informative presentation, I wanted to take my class on the journey of creating a medicinal salve with plantains,” Casy told us. “While I could put everything together quite easily, I know that I needed to have my third graders do the work.

“We started the yearlong project with learning how to properly harvest plantains with respect and appreciation for the plant’s giving itself for us to make medicine.

“I let them know they should explain they wanted to use it for medicine. I said they had to be quiet enough to listen for an answer. Many harvesting sessions gave us the chance to learn how to wash and dry the leaves.”

In addition, Casy also took her students to an olive orchard where they harvested enough olives to make more than two gallons of oil to make a salve. 

“Before winter break we began the process of placing the dried leaves in gallon jars and covering that with olive oil. When the school shut down due to the COVID-19 closure, I made arrangements to go in and bring the jars home so I could separate the oil from the leaves.

“From the beginning, I have been blessed to have a Round Valley elder working with me. She is a maker of traditional medicine for her family and extended family in the valley. More than once her great works have healed me.”

Casy also reported that on that one such trip to the orchard, she happened to be stung by a yellowjacket and the students took great excitement in using their plantain leaves as salve to sooth the sting.

When school resumes, her class will give a presentation to the entire school one grade at a time and give each student a sample of the salve.

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