Third grade students at Everson Elementary have long done a Native American studies unit each spring, but this year’s curriculum had a decidedly local component as the third-grade team of teachers collaborated with members of the Nooksack Tribe to plan a new unit. And it’s been an overwhelming success.
Debuting at the beginning of May, third-grade teacher Jaclyn Hinton says the students have had so much fun, both with the updated materials and with interactive lessons.
“When we started the conversation about revising the unit, we knew we needed to include the tribe,” Hinton says. “Their input was what was lacking from the old unit and we wanted this unit to really reflect and honor the native culture. As teachers who aren’t native, we needed an expert’s opinion and direction on what content the lessons should cover.”
The biggest changes in the curriculum included the books and resources used as the source learning material. In previous years, Everson teachers used books that were dated. Using new curriculum recently released by the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and with the input from the Nooksack Tribe that included local resources, Everson was able to center the lessons around the importance of the natural resources of Western Washington land, including cedar and salmon.
The tribe offered suggestions of YouTube videos of Nooksack Tribe members teaching about fishing, preserving salmon and cedar weaving. “It was cool to see students recognize the Nooksack River in the videos and make connections between what they are learning about and what experiences they have,” Hinton says.
As part of the new unit, teachers worked with Andrea Williams, a member of the tribe, who met with students over Zoom and taught them step-by-step how to weave a cedar mat. The students learned how to soak their cedar, weave pieces tougher and use thread to secure it.
“It was challenging, but the students persevered, and the mats turned out beautiful,” Hinton says. “Andrea was very patient and gave great instructions.”
The students were then able to reflect on how much work a single mat was, gaining perspective into what it must have been like to weave entire blankets and baskets to hold water.
Hinton says all the new resources—the teachers also checked out a kit from the Whatcom Public Library with books, model canoes, animal pelts and other hands-on materials—have really brought the curriculum to life.
“We have had a lot of fun with this unit,” she says. “It has been exciting to see our native students take ownership and be able to teach the class about some of the things they are experts in, like racing canoes and drumming.”