By Janine Pease, For the Wisdom of the Children LBHC Project Director
Just as we were rounding the turn to the last leg of the school year, the COVID-19 Pandemic hit.
The Montana governor declared a Shelter in Home order in response to the coronavirus, and all public schools closed on March 16, 2020, including the Chickadee Lodge School, which serves as the partnering early learning center for the Little Big Horn College (LBHC) early childhood education (ECE) program and is where some For the Wisdom of the Children programming is implemented.
The closures hugely impacted the school year’s language learning in the last quarter of the school year, if it did not curtail learning. We were forced to shelve our plans for outdoor and field learning, and taking journeys to cultural, historical, and wildlife sites with carefully chosen Crow language interpreters and guides. Our academic year was cut short, which meant that last leg of the race for language fluency would be less than we envisioned.
Complicating matters, the school principal, Dr. Janine Pease, and two of the Chickadee Lodge Language Immersion School teachers, Shawn Real Bird and Riley Singer, attended an exhibition of Crow Indian cultural and historical materials at the Chicago Field Museum in early March right before the coronavirus hit. Substitutes had been retained to keep classes – the first and second grade – going daily. Upon the staff’s return, the Crow Agency Public School and the Little Big Horn College requested the staffers self-quarantine. Of course, they followed the order and stayed home.
Dr. Pease visited the exhibit “Apsaalooke Women and Warriors” as a special guest and writer in the Exhibition Publication on 20th Century Crow Women Leaders. Dr. Pease also toured the Crow Indian material holdings to photograph the children’s clothing, toys, and games to bring them back to the language immersion students.
Teachers Riley Singer and Shawn Real Bird were contracted to provide Crow traditional dances, appropriate cultural announcing of dances, parades, and ceremonial gift-giving at the exhibition. They anticipated sharing their stories of war shirts and war shields in the displays with the children, and principal Janine had gathered photos and information on the children’s clothing and toys in the stored material items in the museum. Unfortunately, none of those special lessons could soon make their way back to the Chickadee Lodge School. Everything changed upon the staff’s return from the exhibition.
During the first week of April it became apparent that the school year as we knew it, with in-person instruction, would not reconvene. Although at first we hoped the closure would be temporary, it was not long before it was certain that closure through the end of the year was necessary.
As a part of the Crow Agency school community, Chickadee Lodge School participated in the assembly of learning packets. Each week on Tuesday teachers prepared sets of worksheets and exercises in the Crow language and placed them into large plastic bags. Pages from the Level 1, 2, and 3 textbooks “Biiluulaalilaah” were copied, along with the math workbooks and art activities. Bag lunches were also distributed daily at the Crow Agency School for the children’s parents to pick up from the school buses.
In early April, our school staff met to discuss the upcoming learning packets. Dr. Pease converted all teaching assignments for spring semester into online instruction starting on April 1. She and three Little Big Horn College fellow faculty members set up a Facebook page for college instruction.
While sharing this with the Chickadee Lodge teachers, it became apparent that they could follow that same pattern and make live-video recordings on the Chickadee School Facebook page. With that realization, the Chickadee Lodge Teachers came to campus the week of April 6 to begin recording two video lessons per week for a total of eight lessons among the four teachers. The lessons covered a range of topics, including the Crow calendar and seasons, the Crow alphabet, animals of the mountains, and foods in the Crow language, just to name a few.
We used phone contacts to notify students and their parents/grandparents that the videos were online for them to use. These are also available to the public on Facebook by searching for “Chickadee Lodge School.”
By gauging the views and reactions on the videos, we know there has been a noteworthy following of the lessons.
Though the For the Wisdom of the Children program at LBHC and its Chickadee Lodge School early learning center were certainly impacted by the pandemic, it was no match for the school’s flexibility and innovation – such as the learning packet and lunch pickups and Facebook video lessons – that the team was able to pull off despite the circumstances.