By Gonda Budrow, Education Instructor, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College
A team of in service and pre-service teachers from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College attended the Minnesota Association for the Education of Young Children (MnAEYC) and Minnesota School Age Care alliance (MnSACA) Annual State Conference. Attendees forged new connections and brought home new and inspirational ideas of ways for implementing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) with early learners from the conference, whose theme was Becoming Your Best Self.
Carol Smith, a kindergarten teacher at Fond du Lac Ojibwe School, attended every session possible related to STEM. She is currently designing a unit related to the importance of sugar bush in the community’s traditional diet and found the conference inspired different ways she could approach learning. She said, “The presentations where we participated in interactive activities sorting nature items, such as acorns, sticks and leaves, helped remind me of how important it is to bring these materials into the classroom if we are not able to access them outdoors. Ideally it would be nice to have an outdoor classroom setting where students could explore these items.”
Jennifer Broten, Early Head Start lead teacher at the Fond Du Lac Head Start, is excited to engage in an outdoor classroom environment. Bus driver shortages make it difficult to bring the children outdoors to the learning environment, but she came back from the conference more assured then ever that she can share outdoor learning experiences with the students after learning about other programs that engage in year-round outdoor classrooms. She was excited and surprised to learn that Minnesota does not have laws that restrict children from being outdoors in the elements even during cold winters. Jennifer is currently a part of a team designing an outdoor classroom area to teach the students about the wild rice harvest.
Lavonne Bellanger, a pre-service teacher in the elementary education program, attended the conference. She talked about getting outside her comfort zone while attending a conference that was designed for educators not predominately focused on Native communities. At first, she wasn’t certain it felt as welcoming and familiar as conferences with recognizable faces from tribal communities around the state and with a focus on issues from Native communities. This is the reality that we reflect on as we learn to represent in a field that does not have many Native teachers. According to the 2017 report of Teacher Supply and Demand in Minnesota Public schools in 2015, 98.58% of teachers were white while less than a half percent (0.41%) were Native American. Preparing teachers for those feelings and how to work through them will create stronger retention in the field of education.
By the end of the conference, Lavonne enjoyed the hands-on STEM sessions that posed problem solving questions for participants. Lavonne’s daughter, Victoria, was also able to try out the STEM learning opportunities at the conference. She may follow in her mother’s footsteps to become a second-generation teacher in her family.
Thanks to the American Indian College Fund, which provides opportunities for teachers of color to enter the field and to expand their experiences early and often, teachers like those at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College can expand both their knowledge and their experience to better serve the students in their communities. The networking and opportunities to look at STEM from many different perspectives allowed the teachers to dream about how to engage their students in new ways. The conference fueled the professional growth in all who attended, and it has already begun to influence lesson design and student opportunities and engagement. The teachers are excited to see how this spark will kindle a love for teaching the community’s youngest learners.