by Kathie Maiers, Salish Kootenai College Project Coordinator; Cindy O’Dell, Salish Kootenai College Restorative Teachings Project Director; and Amy Burland Salish Kootenai College, Project Coordinator
Thanks to a tribal college in Montana, American Indian students with disabilities are benefiting from the enhanced teacher training. Salish Kootenai College (SKC) is designing and delivering professional development to 40 teachers, pre-service teachers, and educational professionals to enhance the health, wellness, and educational opportunities for American Indian (AI) children with and without disabilities and their families. Working with the College Fund through a Restorative Teachings grant, SKC partnered with the Special Olympics of Montana (SOMT) to create culturally relevant and developmentally appropriate programs and activities.
SKC is integrating the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program with the college’s Traditional Indigenous Games. SKC held two training sessions this spring for the event. Once SKC has a cadre of professionals educated in both programs within SOMT and Traditional Indigenous Games, it will create task force of cultural elders and language specialists to work closely with SKC to combine the two approaches and embed both the Salish and Kootenai languages throughout the training materials.
SKC plans to mentor teachers, pre-service teachers, and other professionals who participated in both trainings to encourage them to host events at their schools or communities and to become Unified Champion Schools. These training events are both combined efforts with Traditional Indigenous Games and SOMT.
SKC’s Education Division also earned its official classification as a Unified Champion School for the Special Olympics. This designation makes SKC part of an initiative to create opportunities for social inclusion, sports and educational growth that support communities to promote acceptance, respect, and human dignity for all students. SKC completed the SOMT Unified Champion School Pledge in February after the Restorative Teachings project personnel began meeting with the SOMT leadership in November. SKC Elementary Education students and faculty participated in the first trainings and an event for local families that led to earning the Unified Champion School classification.
Training began with SKC pre-service teachers’ participation in the first Special Olympics Young Athletes Program training in February as part of Elementary PE/Health Methods course requirements in the SKC Elementary Education bachelor’s degree program. The class is offered before students get student teaching field experience.
After the training, SKC pre-service teachers planned and delivered SOMT activities at the Charging into a Healthy Future event, offered to local children with and without disabilities and their families.
The games and activities included skill development in throwing, balancing, relay races, cooperative games, and dance. Young children, parents, and SKC pre-service teachers prepared healthy snacks and ate dinner in between activities. The event was sponsored by the SKC Center for Prevention & Wellness. The Education Division assisted with facilitating family activities. The event was the final step for qualifying SKC for the Unified Champion School classification.
An overview of the Special Olympics Young Athletes Program was provided to SKC pre-service teachers and educational professionals throughout the Flathead Reservation community in March. Participants were encouraged to facilitate an event at their schools and to attend the International Traditional Indigenous Games Training and Certification in April at the SKC Joe McDonald Health and Fitness Center, which was conducted by the International Traditional Games Society which recently collaborated with the Montana Office of Public Instruction to develop training materials around Traditional Native Games.