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By Karen Colbert, KBOCC Project Director

The Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa Community College (KBOCC) Agriculture and Arts Center hosted the inaugural Anishinaabe Early Childhood Symposium in October. This symposium was the first of its kind, specifically emphasizing the elements of bridging STEM equity in our rural community, which can be summarized in one word: ACCESS. Most of the Pre-K through third grade classrooms that support the Keweenaw Bay Ojibwa community lack the access to formal training and opportunities that are prevalently available to teachers in the tri-county area.

Teachers work together to get the most out of this training opportunity.

Teachers work together to get the most out of this training opportunity.

For our teachers, access might be as simple as having a substitute teacher available so that they can take the time out of the classroom to attend a conference. Currently even a simple request like this is an impossible feat.

Our goal for the symposium was to bring top-notch training opportunities directly to our county so teachers would have access to the same level of professional development that other affluent school districts receive.

In “weaving” together our first Indigenous Math thru Art workshop in 2018, Dennis White, Lac Courte Oreilles tribal member and elder, was a star guest. For the symposium, we invited Mr. White back to share more with our teachers. Mr. White brings traditions of art, math, and Ojibwa culture into the classroom. He has mastered the practice of traditional Ojibwa finger weaving and incorporates his passion for mathematics into his woven patterns.

Inspired by the “gift” that is their students, teachers explore ways in which they, too, can be an inspiration.

Inspired by the “gift” that is their students, teachers explore ways in which they, too, can be an inspiration.

The successful response of his first workshop in 2018 told us that not only is our community ready to implement additional creative Indigenous teaching practices into the curriculum, but they are hungry for it. Further, the overwhelmingly positive response to his teaching style at the symposium was a preview of how teachers are investing in innovative teaching techniques.

In a gymnasium of about 22 educators, Mr. White inspired teachers to bring their “joy of teaching to their students.” By modeling the method of storytelling to engage a room full of educators, Mr. White was able to capture the essence of what is really missing from the classroom curriculum, the idea of the “gift.” He said, “The students are your present…your rewards are the students that are there… Let those students see your joy and that will be a gift that will continue to grow. They can share that gift with others.”

Within Native American communities, giving was expected as a means of sharing and survival. This tradition needs to be brought back into the classroom to help preserve the Ojibwa culture and in turn, to help our students thrive.

Symposium lecture

Symposium lecture

Our “gift” to the teachers was this symposium. Presentations about mindfulness, STEM + Art, early literacy resources, and active learning in an outdoor environment were some of the highlights of the day. Our symposium received community support from the tribal health department, Michigan State Extension, and Michigan Technological University’s Center for Science & Environmental Outreach. This gift of necessary professional development educated and inspired KBOCC’s community of teachers.