Laona School District Learns About Cultural Awareness

Laona School District staff
Laona School District staff listening to Keeble (plaid shirt) while in the FCP Museum.

On Jan. 22, 2016, the Laona School District was invited by FCP Education and FCP Language & Culture departments to take part in a cultural day which was held at the FCP Cultural Center, Library & Museum. This event took place on the teachers’ in-service day and provided them with many tools and information about the identity and stereotypes of Native American people.

Tom Boelter, division director of education, welcomed everyone, gave a quick introduction of his staff members and also stated what was to be expected for the day. Boelter, along with Sarah Thomaschefsky, assistant division director of education, announced some of the changes they have seen in the past ve years with local native students. Many of the statistics reflecting what the students are doing today are quite remarkable. The total accumulative GPA for these students ve years ago was 1.5 and today it is 2.7. Along with a rise in GPA, there has been a significant improvement in attendance. Five years ago it averaged 60 percent, and today it is 95 percent. There have been many positive changes over the last ve years, and the education department is looking forward to seeing what further changes will be seen in the next ve years.

Donald Keeble, language & culture language apprentice, presented to the school district and put forth a very mesmerizing dialogue for the teachers and administrators. He began his discussion with introductions and then went into a history lesson with the help of the lm called “The Canary Effect”. This production discusses Columbus and the real truth about what happened to the Native people on this continent at that time. Though it is an hour long, Keeble was able to summarize his points within the first 10 minutes or so. This lm can be viewed on YouTube if anyone is interested.

After a bit of discussion from the audience, Keeble moved on to talk about his school days. For him, it was tough to differentiate between what he was being taught at home about his culture and religion and what he heard at school where really nothing was taught about those subjects. He said, “Imagine being a student in today’s world and when you go to school, you see nothing of yourself in the school you attend. Imagine how tough that must be for that student to think they really belonged there.”

He also mentioned that a student came up to him and said, “I asked our principal if we could use our language throughout the school such as marking the bathroom, water fountain, lunch room, etc.” This request was made last year by this student, and it is still in the works as we speak. Keeble described that when a student sees himself or herself in a place where they spend a lot of their time, their grades go up along with attendance. “It will make them want to be there and to feel like a part of something.”

Keeble went on to speak about the books that are also offered in the classroom and how when you stop to think about it, what is primarily described in these books is western culture. It may seem that you may have a few sections of Native American history, but what you primarily see seems to be fiction and does not state true history. This is one of the reasons it was felt to be important to have this discussion at the FCP Culture Center, Library & Museum where there are countless numbers of books, videos, and references available within the center.

Keeble continued with a discussion about the seven forms of bias with these being: Invisibility – what you don’t see makes a lasting impression; Stereotyping – shortcuts to bigotry; Imbalance and Selectivity – a tale half told; Unreality – rose colored glasses; Fragmentation and Isolation – parts are less than the whole; Linguistic bias – words count; and Cosmetic bias – “shiny” covers.

After an in depth discussion about these biases, Keeble and the participants went into great conversation about items they have noticed that are culturally-biased. Keeble even brought out the “Parents” magazine issue for Jan. 2016, which showed a mom scolding her daughter who was shown screaming and obviously misbehaving while wearing a native headdress. Keeble asked, “What does this photo show people? Of course it shows the stereotype of a bad little Indian child misbehaving. This is still happening this very day. This isn’t in the past.”

After this very educational presentation, the teachers were able to go upstairs to tour the museum and library. This was a very informative tour as many had never even stepped foot into this facility which can be used for educational purposes. Sam Smith, FCP librarian, explained in detail how this library was set up. Since it is not under Wisconsin state law, the ordering system is actually a bit easier to use than the Dewey Decimal System. The feedback from this presentation was great with many teachers checking out books and videos to use in their classrooms. After looking through the materials, the oor again was opened and the staff welcomed any questions or thoughts that participants had following this presentation.

Before the event was finished, Boelter presented the district’s superintendent, Laurie Asher, with a Pendleton blanket to share with the school and gave a “Chi Megwetch” to having her staff be present on this in-service day. In return Asher said, “The school is honored to have this, and I believe we are heading in the right direction for our students.” In the end Keeble said, “I truly appreciate you all coming and letting me talk with you. I hope we can work together in the future on these subjects because this is something I deeply care about and I deeply care about these kids.”

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