a little of this…a little of that…

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Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of small things that have “jumped out at me.” Unfortunately, most of them are too small and insignificant to write an entire blog post about. I have tried to put them out of mind…but they are persistent memories.

Then I realized I could bring them all together in one place…and, voila!, a full blog post:

I was chatting with a few of my tutoring students at the end of the school day and joked that the following week I was going to “turn into Mr. C.” I was referring to being a substitute teacher for the 1st grade class. But one student gasped and asked if I was going to do witchcraft. I’m still not sure if he was joking back…or if he is one of the many, many Navajo who believe in human shape-changers called skin-walkers.

Most of you don’t get updates from my art blog. Go check out a post HERE from a few weeks ago — with photos and explanations of the Van Gogh art project I did with the 1st graders while I was subbing in the class.

our lovely swirly mural a la Van Gogh

One morning I was running late and hadn’t finished up my cup of coffee, so I brought it to tutoring with me. Anthony* asked what it was, then asked if he could have a sip. (No, obviously not…) Katie* immediately asked him, “Do you want your hair to turn WHITE?!” As I asked her about that comment, she explained that is what her grandpa says every time she wants to taste his coffee, as he points to his own white hair.

With the Twilight series of movies and books still quite popular among the students, there were a bunch of vampires and werewolves for Halloween. Somehow, I have still managed to avoid this series, although I’m glad it keeps some of these students reading. When she is stressed or anxious, our daughter Anna has a pattern of chewing around her lips until the skin is raw and bleeding. Her mouth was quite a mess before we left for Ohio, but she wanted to go to school as usual on the Tuesday before we left so she could say goodbye to friends and teachers. I was quite uncertain how the students would react to her injuries, knowing how vicious teasing can sometimes be. I was baffled, but quite pleased, when most of the students thought it was really COOL. They wanted to know how Anna managed to make herself look so much like a vampire!

For my tutoring groups, I bought a pack of bright colored ink pens. Somehow it feels less like WORK when we are writing or doing exercises if we can write in hot pink, or purple, or neon green. I continue to stress that the students must follow their teacher’s rules about what to write with in the classroom. To me these pens are just a bit of colorful fun. To the students, however, the pens have become something to look forward to. When I said my goodbyes before Thanksgiving, I gave each reading student a pack of colored pens as a little going-away gift. By their reactions, you might have thought that I had given them GOLD!

Well, enough random tidbits for this week. I’ll try to add some photos and another more in-depth post for next Friday.

 

 

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End of Year Ceremony (Guest Post #12)

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This is #12 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

I estimated that about two hundred people attended the ceremony. I sat on the steps in the gym observing the people and events. The eighth graders, beautifully dressed, entered the gym in pairs, one boy and one girl holding arms. Once everyone was seated, the principal gave the opening speech. She announced the honors, gave the prizes and congratulated all the eighth grade graduates. I noticed her emotional moment during the ceremony. I heard from Jill that she has devoted herself to the education of Navajo children for decades. I think such a career is respectful and challenging since it requires not only expertise but also familiarity with Navajo culture.

(photo taken by guest author)

Prizes for students from the other grades were given. Prizes are important in the sense that they give encouragement to students. During the ceremony, the students performed dances and sang in a choir. For those who are not familiar with American Indian culture, this is a good opportunity to see how colorful the culture is, which is reflected in their costumes and the performance. The Pine Hill Church pastor was invited to give a speech.

The eighth graders sat on the front platform. This was the day that they could feel proud of their graduation. However, I thought their proud feeling was probably mixed with nostalgia, as the ceremony marked the successful completion of middle school, and at the same time the beginning of something uncertain. I was thinking about the concept of rituals. We have different rituals during our life course. But what exactly is their function? Looking at it from a social perspective, rituals can strengthen communication, social cohesion, and grant authority. Psychologically, rituals certainly can create a moment for participants to reflect on themselves, and this will shape their personality. This graduation ceremony is undoubtedly an important event for the eighth graders.

(You can read a previous post about 8th Grade Graduation, including more photos, HERE.)

Transition-to-Adult Retreat: an Outsider’s View (Guest Post #11)

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This is guest post #11 in a series written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

It has been a lot of fun having the eighth graders around for a learning retreat (in mid may—read a blog entry about the retreat HERE). This is actually part of their education. As an outsider, I had the opportunity to observe the activities “at a distance” and communicate with some of them. In my view, this program is helpful for them considering the high dropout rate of Navajo high school students.

Activities were indoors and outdoors

The four day retreat was quite intense. The activities combined both education and entertainment and were held both indoors and outdoors. They involved a lot of creativity and reflection. When it came to the part about presenting their personality, they were asked to make a collage. Although the pictures and symbols were limited for them to choose from, the way the collage was made certainly showed some traits of personality. Much of the lectures were about people and society outside of students’ main experience. Randy and Jill mentioned the different ways of thinking of different people. The effects of such lectures would be to familiarize the students with the complexity of the real world on the one hand, and motivate them to pursue a different life on the other.

Outside, students participated in a competition by completing certain fun tasks in pairs, such as shooting hoops. It was more of a fun activity than a competition. Our two dogs participated as well. One of the nights was a campfire night. Besides the fire, the students were joking, watching videos on the phone, or just careless talking. It continued until late that night.

Job-related training was one of the most important components of this program. The students were advised on how to write a resume, how to balance personal interests and actual job, how to do an interview, etc. For others, it is still too early to receive such training, but for these students, it may be practical.

closing activity of retreat

Overall, this retreat program provided an excellent opportunity to prepare the students for their future, especially when they look for a job. It was aimed at motivating the students to think about their future and promote their confidence to solve problems. It emphasized concepts such as adaptation, aspiration and achievement. Hopefully, they will reflect on this program and find it helpful for their transition to the next chapter of their life.

(Note from Jill Emmelhainz–after a rocky start for a few students, currently all 12 young people are still attending highschool. This is a victory compared to past years when by now in the semester there have usually been 1 or 2 that have already either dropped out or been suspended! As we have met some of these kids in the community, they talk happily about the retreat and beg to have a reunion retreat. We are hoping to schedule one for spring break. Please keep praying for each one of these young people as they go against their current culture and (for some) against family pressures as they work to stay in school.)

Sports Day for Jemez Mountain Schools (Guest Post #10)

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This is guest post #10 in a series written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and the author HERE.

It was a sunny day of late May. The elementary and middle school students from the Jemez Mountain area came to the sports field for competition. I believe it was both a competition and for fun. The categories of competition included races, egg-holding races, relays, three-legged races, kicking a shoe into a barrel, etc.

The children seemed to enjoy the competitions very much. Sitting in the shade of the “stadium”, I enjoyed watching the activities without feeling warm. I couldn’t help but laugh at their performance. For example, in the three-legged race, the two partners who could not synchronize well sometimes fell onto the ground. In the sack race, some competitors could not move forward smoothly. During the egg-holding race, some kids couldn’t balance well and dropped the eggs. For the shoe kicking, some shoes ended up hitting the spot far away from the target barrel.

While students from Lybrook Elementary/Middle School were predominantly Navajo, the other schools had more white students. This sports day was a diversion for these students at the end of the school year. They could learn something about coordinating with others, balancing their senses, improving their physical strengths, etc. In addition, they had an opportunity to communicate with their peers from nearby areas. The activities could help develop their sense of achievement. And of course, the competitions were fun.

(Photos taken by the author)

 

 

Musings at the NM State Fair

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A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being a chaperone as students from the local school had a field-trip to the NM State Fair. I was responsible for 2 students (plus my daughter) and their 5th grade teacher joined us for the day as well.

“My” girls meet Smokey the Bear

We wandered the fairgrounds and enjoyed the usual things: shows, animals, art displays and 4H projects. The kids picked up lots of freebies and handouts from the Department of Natural Resources, and the various branches of the Armed Services, and Science groups, and Libraries, and more. (You can see photos from the day HERE.)

I enjoyed spending time with the girls. It was interesting to see what they found intriguing and what things bored them. It was fun to share my love of “agua de sandia” (watermelon water—a favorite drink from time in Mexico) with them. I was pleased to see that the tacky wares in the vendor booths were no temptation (at least to “my” girls—not talking about many of the other kids who returned to the buses as the end of the day with amazing money-wasters!)

Behind the up-front, oh-so-typical story of kids going to the fair is another story. It’s a story that I’ve been pondering. Let me share a few pieces with you…

I tutor one of these girls—let’s call her Dee. Many days she is sullen and withdrawn. It can be hard to engage her in what we are working on. At one point, she and I had an in-your-face argument. You don’t need to know the details…it is enough to say that I wrote an apology and an affirmation of the value and worth I see in Dee. I assumed our relationship, which was tenuous to start with, was irrevocably broken. The principal herself wondered if it would be more effective for someone else to work with Dee. I chose to stick with it for a little longer to see what might happen.

Imagine my surprise, then, during a tutoring session the day before the fair trip, when Dee asked me if she could be in my group. WOW! But I knew she was bringing money for a ride band…and I don’t believe spending the day on the midway is an appropriate use of a school funded trip to the fair. I gently explained that my group would NOT taking time for any rides, and suggested she would probably be happier in another group.

The next morning, I discovered that Dee was assigned to my group after all. I suggested that she might want to trade and be in someone else’s group…but she chose to stick with me. That made me both happy and worried that a no-rides-policy might yet again break relationship between us.

Our vote for “Best of Show” quilt

Once we got to the fair, Dee, Kay, and my daughter, were happy to follow my suggestions about which shows to see and which exhibits to visit. They asked to walk through the petting zoo—commenting that their grandmas had sheeps and goats, too. Dee asked once or twice about rides, but didn’t argue when I pointed out she was the only one in our group with money to pay for rides.

Eventually, Dee quietly asked if everyone could put their money together to share the cost of rides. That seemed totally unreasonable to me, since Dee had $25, my daughter had only $5, and Kay had no money to spend at the fair. However, Dee persisted. She quietly insisted that if the money was pooled together, she would be happy to share.

Sharing the rides…

I finally gave in, and the girls enjoyed a few rides together in the last 30 minutes before time to leave the fair to head home. Instead of a day full of unlimited rides, Dee had only 3 rides. But she was happy. After all, she had done the rides together with her friends. They had shared their money, and their fun.

I can’t get this picture out of my mind. In my Anglo world, it is only sharing if everyone is (somewhat) equal in what they contribute. Otherwise, it is either a gift or charity for one to pay for others. In my Anglo world, an expectation of “sharing” can become a burden, or can cause the giver to feel taken advantage of.

…sharing the fun!

But that wasn’t Dee’s world. She was happy: happy to spend far more than the others to pay for everyone to ride. As long as each person put everything they had “into the pot,” Dee felt that they had all shared the cost of the rides. It was a gentle, face-saving way for everyone to enjoy the special occasion.

It makes me wonder: we work hard to break the “dependency culture” out here. We see how the expectation of hand-outs from Anglos too often undermines the Navajo taking care of each other. But perhaps there is another way…a way to pool resources…a way for everyone to walk in mutual respect, taking joy in sharing with each other.

“Ethnic Heritage”

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I team teach reading two mornings per week at the local school. Mrs. M and I recently put together a variety of activities to celebrate the finish of a language arts unit on Immigration. We had two goals: help the students feel what it might have been like to be a new immigrant coming through Ellis Island in the 1800s, and learn about the ethnic heritage of the teachers and staff at the school.

For the first objective, Mrs. M and I spoke to the students only in Spanish–a language they do not understand. We marched them down the hall for a “medical exam.”

checking eyes and heart

When we returned to the classroom, each student had an interview (in Spanish) about their intentions.

“entrance interview”

When they managed to guess the correct answers, they eventually got some stamps in their “passports.

each student received a “passport”

…with “picture,” basic personal info, and eventual stamps for successful entry

As we went through this process, the students couldn’t decide whether to laugh and goof off, or whether to get angry that they couldn’t understand what we wanted them to do. Discussion helped clarify that this is often how new immigrants feel. Goal one: Successful!

Then we moved on to looking at the ethnic heritage of each teacher, staff member, and administrator at this little school. I had surveyed the adults ahead of time, gathering the information into a chart and writing it on cards to be put on a bar graph.

putting together the bar graph

It was fascinating to follow the progress of this activity and discussion time. It quickly became clear that these students fundamentally have no idea of world geography. They were baffled by the differences in names: Italian, Italy; Irish, Ireland; Swedish, Sweden; much less being unable to find the countries on a map.

We also had a long discussion about “Indian” versus “Native American.” Most of the students were quite offended that white people had decided they should be called “Native Americans.” All of them were adamant that they are “Dine” or “Navajo” or at least should be called “Indian.” They also did not want to include other tribal groups in their own grouping of “Indian.”

I assumed they could understand many different tribes making up “Native Americans” and many different nationalities making up “Anglo.” However, what the students came back to over and over and over was that they are Navajo and everyone else is “belagaana–other–not us.”

Ethnic Heritage of School Staff, Administrators, and Teachers

Seems to me this was a successful closing activity with lots to be learned…by ME, if not by the students!

Trip to Navajo Student Dorm and Bloomfield Highschool (Guest Post)

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This is the Seventh post in a series of Guest Posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read the introduction to these posts HERE.

There are about 12 eighth graders graduating this June [2012]. The school organized a trip for them to visit a dorm for Navajo students and the Bloomfield High School, where they can choose to stay for their high school life. The dorm is located outside the town, and the students need to commute between dorm and school.

We visited the dorm first. Currently, there are about 100 residents in this dorm. The corridor walls are decorated with American Indian arts and slogans in both English and Navajo. For example, two slogans say, “do not be overly shy”, and “do not be easily hurt”. Residents share bunk-beds and communal bathrooms. Within the dorm building, there is a computer area, a laundry room and a dining hall. Outside the dorm building, there is a library built in the traditional stone and wood style. Overall, the facilities are nice, while the dorm rules are strict. For example, the dorm sets up bedtime and laundry time. Students are not allowed to enter other students’ rooms. I was thinking that living in a dorm for children can help them develop communication skills and live independently. On the other hand, living away from home can be hard for these children.

At Bloomfield High School, we visited the main building, the theatre and the sports center. Inside the main building, we had the opportunity to see students in different classrooms making art, doing chemistry experiments, etc. I noticed that some of the outstanding alumni of this school went to University of New Mexico. We were instructed on the topics regarding registration, attendance rules, graduation information, etc. One aspect about the courses that deserves mentioning is that students can earn college credits for free. The school provides some courses related to Navajo language and culture. The great majority of the students I observed, however, weren’t Navajo. I think this may cause adaptation difficulty for some of the Lybrook area students, as one of the concerns of they have is whether or not they will have Navajo peers in the school.

These eight graders have other options, such as the high school in the nearby town, Cuba. Whichever they choose, they will start a new chapter of their life. I wish them good luck in their high school years.

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