Published for the Arts Based School Community
January 5, 2023
How We Do It and Why
By Mary Siebert
“Some folks contend that since it’s acceptable to dress up as a cowboy, they should get a pass for dressing up as an ‘Indian.’ Wrong. While children frequently dress up to play a cowboy, nurse, or fire fighter, these are occupations. Being American Indian is not a profession or vocation. It is a human identity, tribally specific and integral to Native personhood and nationhood.” - Ruth Hopkins in The Guardian, June 19, 2015
Our team of 2nd grade teachers, specialists, and curriculum coordinator Liz Green are diving into new territory together. They are striving to introduce the true narrative of Native Americans, both historic and modern, through factual accounts, stories, and the arts. The state of North Carolina’s new social studies standards are particularly fresh at 2nd grade. Other grades have large and small adjustments, but this grade’s curriculum has been entirely replaced. The team packed away years of accumulated materials for previous units, and started from scratch. They will explore our nation’s origins across many cultures and events over the course of the year, seeking to tell the truth from various perspectives, hoping to strike the ideal balance for a 2nd grader’s perspective.
The specialists and the teachers are all looking for truly rich connections that go well beyond arts and crafts to teach authentic lessons. We are also watching vigilantly for landmines of our own cultural ignorance, as we strive to be respectful, appreciative, and get our hands, minds, and bodies into the learning.
Tahvyea Rains, our dance teacher, introduced students to Native American powwows. It seemed worrisome at first. We have, for years, guarded against “dressing up like American Indians,” knowing that feathers and face paint, for example, are culturally precious and meaningful to many native people. But with careful research, we are learning that the powwow study is a sound approach for a dance educator who also deeply understands social studies, as does Ms. Rains, who taught social studies for years. Like introducing our children to African dance and Irish dance, powwow dance is a meaningful and appropriate exploration that we are handling with care.
You might have heard or read that the term powwow is sensitive right now in American culture. In fact, while Tahvyea was teaching one day, a visiting prospective parent who is an anthropology professor at UNCG observed a powwow dance class and asked (without judgment, just asking) whether "powwow" wasn't now a term we are expected to stop using.
In researching this, we learned, first, that the term "powwow" should be used freely to refer to the great gatherings of Native people where cultures are shared and compared. Some powwows are competitive (singing, drumming, dancing, regalia;) and a broad range of tribes travel to participate. Others are traditional, and remain local. For generations, "outsiders" have been welcomed to powwows. Outsiders are even encouraged and invited, at certain points in the event, to participate in the dancing.
On the other hand, the term "powwow" should not be used flippantly when referring to gathering together for an office meeting or a family reunion. That joking misuse of the term is insulting. And that is probably what the anthropology professor had heard about.
To begin their study, Ms. Rains shared the children's biography: Maria Thundercloud: Finding My Dance. This introduced the children to a Native American author and professional dancer who first fell in love with dance through powwows. Next, they learned basic powwow dance steps from Native American teacher Deanne Hupfield on a kid-level video.
Students in Ms. Rains’s class were encouraged to arrange these steps together in original combinations in small, cooperative groups. The music that was used for their dances was by Northern Cree, a contemporary Native American singing group who sell their recordings commercially, and who perform at powwows.
At the end, the only detail that at first struck me as possibly out of context was a round dance improv that celebrated the end of the study, which, although Ms. Rains restricted the moves to be non hip-hop, still seemed like contemporary non-native culture butting in. But I read this article about the fresh influence of hip-hop on powwow and round dance traditions. So the inclusion of this improvisatory circle is a reflection on current trends in powwow dancing… and one of our goals is to be inclusive of current expressions of living American Indians. Ms. Rains had hit it perfectly on point.
Students loved the experience, and through teaching this unit, Ms. Rains discovered that some of her students did have American Indian roots. These students were excited to share what they know, and the others were equally happy to learn new things.
As a school, we are intent on presenting accurate, appropriate cultural information to our students. If we go too deeply into a topic, the details might overwhelm our younger students. If we gloss it over, we might be offensive or even contributing to the pain of the cultures we're trying to honor. It's a challenging problem, and one that our 2nd grade staff and arts specialists have taken on with serious commitment. From time to time we make mistakes and we make amends, but it is worth the journey. We know for certain, though, that the worst thing we could do is to avoid teaching about our indigenous cultures all together, for fear of getting it wrong.
Important First Grade News
Ms. Kathie Fansler recently informed us that she has decided to retire from teaching as of January 31. After a wonderful career in the classroom, she is ready to embark on the next phase of her life. We are disappointed to see her go and will miss her expertise and the difference she makes for kids.
We will have a few great leads on possible teachers that might be a perfect match for ABS. We hope to be able to fill the position quickly and provide a smooth transition for our students.
MAP Testing in January
Third through eighth grade students will complete the second round of MAP testing in January. After the testing is complete, parents will receive an updated score report showing the progress your student has made this year.
Our amazing yearbook volunteers have the following message to share:
It's that time again, 8th grade parents. Please submit your child's "guess who" baby photo to the yearbook via the online upload system. Please make sure to include your child's full name. Here is the link to add your photo. https://plicbooks.com/go/J3U839
Order forms and information for yearbooks will be arriving shortly. We will send out all information as soon as it is received. For questions, please contact Nicole Taylor (Spirlin).
Set-Moving Volunteer Opportunities
Volunteers are needed to move sets, props and costumes! These are high-energy, rewarding tasks that help us produce our beautiful performances. These magical shows do not just magically happen...we rely upon magic-making volunteers! You are invited to log DOUBLE VOLUNTEER HOURS for these set-moving tasks:
-Friday February 3, 3:00-4:00 p.m.
-Friday February 24, 3:00-4:00 p.m.
If you can help with either of these, please sign up HERE. We will meet in the Ewing Theater at ABS North.
6th Grade Math & Science Dances Coming Up!
6th Graders will perform at SECCA on Thursday, January 19 at 6:00 p.m. The performance lasts 30 minutes. Students should arrive between 5:30-6:00.
Assistant Principal for the Day
Does your child want a chance to be Assistant Principal for the day? We hold drawings every month at Friday Sing! You can purchase raffle tickets online or in the front office of your campus to give your child a chance to be Assistant Principal of the Day. Assistant Principals have their own desk, name tag, and list of very important duties for the day. All proceeds from the raffle support our teacher appreciation fund and allow us to do special things for our staff throughout the year. Thank you, and good luck!
In the event of inclement weather, ABS will announce school closings on local TV channels, under “The Arts Based School.'' This information will also be posted on the ABS website (www.artsbasedschool.com).