2023-2024 Dreamstarter Teachers

Meet the Running Strong for American Indian Youth® 2023-2024 Dreamstarter™ Teachers

Running Strong for American Indian Youth is proud to welcome the newest cohort of Dreamstarter® Teachers who are making a difference in the lives of their Native American students and classrooms.

Shannon Britton of Covelo, California is the principal at Round Valley Elementary/Middle School where she has worked for 23 years.

Shannon is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant to host “Academics in Action” days to be held throughout the school year.

“My plan is to have specific-themed days with activities throughout the day,” says Shannon, who notes that “we are always focused on increasing our mathematics and reading scores and often leave out science and art. I will also bring people from the community in to help teach the stations and other Native Americans from outside the community as well.

“For example, we would have ‘Science Circus Day.’ This day would consist of students rotating to different stations on campus where they could learn a specific science skill, conduct an experiment with it and have fun while doing it.”

Tiffany Cacy of Tahlequah, Oklahoma is a teacher at the Tahlequah Public Schools.

Tiffany is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant to purchase outdoor toys for imaginative play and organized games to instill a genuine love of the outdoors in students.

“Physical activity is key in preventing and treating Native American childhood obesity,” says Tiffany. “Studies show that active play, screen time and adult involvement can help with lessening the amount of Native American children who are classified as obese.

“We need to encourage children to be active. We have the rare ability to be able to influence most of this community’s youngest, and most influential generation with the joy of outdoor play.”

Rachel Davis of Stevens Point, Wisconsin is the Native American coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Rachel is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant for professional development for Native American college students, helping them to foster a growth mindset and facilitate their transformation in higher education.

The grant funding will be utilized to help fund a group of five students to attend the Ninth Annual Native American Leadership Forum to be held in December. “This conference hosts the nation’s Native American leaders in gaming and commission, government, tribal government and other industries across Indian Country.

“Students having hands-on training with those leaders and having time to connect and network with them will be motivating and inspirational.”

Brooke Gregory of Puyallup, Washington is a Gifted and Talented teacher at the Chief Leschi School.

She is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant to continue the Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) she implemented in 2022 to provide exposure to all K-8 students to enrichment experiences that are constructed around student interest, learning styles and preferred modes of expression.

“The students that I work with directly are identified as gifted and talented students,” says Brooke. “They are in the top 5 percent of their grade level academically. They enjoy a challenge, struggle with perfectionism, they think outside of the box and have interests in gaining knowledge outside of their general education classroom.”

While the students on her caseload will experience this grant project, Brooke stipulates that her SEM initiative “will also include ALL students in K-8th grades,” adding that, “This grant project is needed at our school and in our community to ensure our students are gaining exposure to experiences they don’t have regular access to inside or outside of school.”

Kristina Hyatt of Cherokee, North Carolina is the secretary of the Cherokee Central School Board of Education. Kristina (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) is a member of the 2017 cohort of Running Strong Dreamstarters.

She is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant for a pilot program to form a Homework Club intended to provide a supportive environment for Cherokee Central School families to be held in a community club building to make the event easily assessable for families and encourage them to get more involved with school related events and activities.

“Students can receive tutoring and help completing homework, while their parent/caregiver can receive helpful information from the guest speaker about upcoming events, available resources and helpful tips,” says Kristina. Through the club, students will also be provided with school supplies and books, receive homework assistance from tutors, and hear from speakers who will offer encouragement and provide helpful tips to keep students motivated.

“My hope is that our homework club can provide students and their families with encouragement, relationships and a sense of community and belonging,” says Kristina. “I truly feel as though this event will leave a lasting impact on everyone involved.”

Mary Beth Lalka of Belcourt, North Dakota is the principal at St. Ann’s Catholic School on the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Reservation who describes her role is to serve the students by creating a positive and safe learning environment for all students.

Mary Beth is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant through the St. Ann’s Curriculum Project to enhance the learning experience of all the students, specifically to help provide the school with a social studies and science curriculum that will meet all the children at their developmental level.

“The objective for the grant proposal is to implement classroom materials that all the students to practice science and social studies skills until they have personally mastered the concept,” says Mary Beth.

“These materials correlate with the Waseca Language Program. St. Ann’s purchased the language program last year with funds from the Running Strong grant. This grant is desperately needed at St. Ann’s Elementary because our school does not have the funds to purchase the finest materials available for our children.”

Connie Michael of Crow Agency, Montana is a fifth-grade teacher at the Crow Agency Public School.

She is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant to bring her students closer to understanding human impact on the Earth by exploring the land they reside on, and the impact humans have had on the history of the ecosystem of the Prairie where their tribe thrived for many generations.

“My grant project’s mission is to bring the knowledge of the past to the future through the history of the prairie and the effects of industrialization on the ecosystem and the people who lived there,” says Connie. “My objectives are to teach the 5th grade standards through science and social studies in an engaging and culturally enriching manner.

“This grant is needed at my school and in my community because as a school and community we see the importance of students being able to understand their history from their ancestors’ point of view. It is important that our students understand the impact each of them have on their world and the future and the importance of knowing the past to influence that future in positive ways.”

Calli Rusche-Nicholson of Billlings, Montana, is the Director of Indian Education of the Billings Public Schools Indian Education Department in a school district with more than 2,000 students who identify as American Indian representing more than 40 tribal nations, the largest in the state.

She is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant to connect, support and empower indigenous students through All Nations Clubs by providing opportunities for American Indian students to sew and bead traditional wear for a powwow led by students, and at other cultural events.

Calli, a member of the Fort Peck Nakoda (Assiniboine) Tribes and whose children are enrolled Gros Ventre with Assiniboine, Cree, Arapaho and Crow descent, says she and her husband work to ensure their children feel a connection to their culture no matter where they go.

“I would like to see that same opportunity for all of our urban indigenous students,” says Callie. “They should know they are part of a tribal community, even if they are not living on their reservation of enrollment.”

Meredith Schramm of Lehi, Utah is a teacher at Lehi Junior High who teaches a cultural studies class for 7th graders.

She is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant to create a cultural dance group with both junior high and high school students, as well as using part of her grant to finish printing a second lesson plan book about influential policies and court cases in Native history.

Meredith said that this past year her school administration put her in charge of finding groups to perform cultural assemblies for students. “We realized there was a need for cultural representation, and to help students learn and understand about different groups of people. However, some of the best assemblies were with our own students. Students were so proud and excited to share their culture.”

For the coming school year, Meredith says, “I am wanting to expand on what we did this year. I’ve already talked to the high schools that our students feed into. Once a month, we would invite the high school students to our school to learn the dances with our junior high students. We would use the school year to learn different dances, and them perform them for our schools as well as at community events.”

Jesse Swann of Pomfet, Maryland is tribal chief of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe educating Native students whose passion “is working with youth and empowering them with their history and heritage so that they can resist cultural erasure and grow up with pride, integrity and compassion for our community’s most vulnerable members.”

Jesse is using his Dreamstarter Teacher grant to engage an expert moccasin-maker and an expert basket-weaver in hands-on learning opportunities for tribal youth through the Piscataway Conoy Tribe Cultural Education Program.

“There has been burgeoning demand in the past decade for opportunities to learn about the region’s history from the perspective of First People, but we have struggled to meet this demand because a lot of knowledge has been lost over centuries of forced assimilation.

“Educating today’s tribal members on the craft of making moccasins and baskets like their ancestors would allow us to demonstrate and transmit this knowledge to our youth and provide a more accurate representation of our culture to members of other tribal communities, cultural tourists, and the public at large.”

Becky Vordermann of Covelo, California is a teacher at Round Valley Elementary/Middle School where 65 percent in the school district are Native American and where she has taught kindergarten, first grade and will be a resource specialist this year.

Becky is using her Dreamstarter Teacher grant to take first and second grade students out into nature where they will explore flora and fauna and learn stories from Native American tribes that relate to the different plants and animals that they will be learning about.

“I believe the students in Round Vally need more opportunity to engage in environmental education opportunities and learn about their own culture along with the cultures of tribes with ties to their own through history,” says Becky.

“The students are full of potential, but many have already experienced trauma in their lives. Nature-based learning has been shown to have a positive impact on those who have experienced trauma. I want to bring more nature-based learning opportunities to students at RVEMS.”

We congratulate all the 2023-2024 Dreamstarter Teachers and their vision to expand the minds, and improve the lives, of their students. 

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