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State Board of Ed. visits Quil Ceda Elementary


The Washington State Board of Education came to visit Quil Ceda Elementary on March 7 to see the school’s integration of Native American culture into elementary school learning.

Cory Taylor, principal of Quil Ceda Elementary, said that the school’s main focus was the “ABCs,” or academics, behavioral support and cultural support.

“Not in any particular order of priority, but those are the areas we try to focus on,” he said.

The school has a variety of ways it embraces Native American culture

“It’s important work. We want to make staff and students understand that they are on tribal land and we recognize the history and strengths of native students,” said Taylor. “We want an environment that’s welcoming to all students.”

These efforts include providing an assembly each day that with Native drumming and messages from school officials or invited tribal members.

“It’s a very short amount of time, but I’m thankful for that extra 15 minutes,” said Chelsea Craig, a teacher and cultural specialist at Quil Ceda Elementary and a member of the Tulalip Tribes.

“Some people might think that is a waste of time but we’ve seen such growth,” she said.

When the state board visited, the school was recognizing a Billy Frank Jr. week where each day provided a look into the person and his work.

Frank was a Washington state Native American who was one of the key figures who protested and fought for Native American fishing rights in the ‘60s and ‘70s in the “Fish Wars.”

Presenting figures that native students can look up to is important, said Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr.

“I remember going to the library to read about Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and I remember one other person, Jim Thorpe [a Native American and former NFL player/Olympic gold medalist],” he said. “Indian people don’t have a lot of heroes because of how history was written. Billy Frank Jr. is a hero.”

The school also teaches the Lushootseed language and includes Native American culture into students' work.

“It’s incorporated into your reading and writing. It’s not a history block, it’s part of your everyday,” said Chelsea Craig.

“The engagement is so exciting. The produced work is so much more than a standard reading curriculum,” she said.

An increased presence of Native American culture is helping to “heal” the wounds still present from boarding schools, said Tulalip Tribal council member Theresa Sheldon.

“When education was put upon us, it was done in a way that stripped everything you saw here away from our children purposefully,” said Chelsea Craig.

She noted that education for Native American children before boarding schools was done “at the feet of grandmothers” and though less formal, it was still effective at passing culture and lessons onto the next generation.

Much of that cultural history and understanding has never been put back into today’s children’s lessons.

“It wasn’t until college that I ever had my first Native American class on anything,” said Theresa Sheldon, who attended the Marysville School District.

“When you’re dealing with historical trauma, and that’s what this is, it takes generations to deal with,” she said.

Change is likely to come slowly, if it comes.

“To think we’re going to come up with a process to move an SBEC [testing] score to where everybody wants it in two or three years is probably unrealistic,” said Pete Lundberg, president of the Marysville School District school board and a former school principal in Marysville.

“What most people have no understanding of is the actual trauma of the history of the native people. They have no frame of reference to really understand what it means,” he said.

Integrating culture can be hard to sell because the goals of tribal communities aren’t always simply to increase test scores.

Things like self-esteem are difficult to measure, but are still important, said Theresa Sheldon.

“They [students] actually feel included and they want to participate,” she said.

Students being involved in the culture also helps keep traditions like tribal drumming alive and helps youth engage with their community.

“The students building citizenship skills is really something we’re interested in contributing to the Tulalip community,” said Anthony Craig, director of equity and access at the Marysville School District.

Theresa Sheldon also recognizes the difficulty in asking more of teachers.

“When we talked about putting the appropriate history in curriculum, it comes down to resources,” she said. “How do we get 30 more minutes without losing core things? I’m just thankful for the progress we have made,” she said.

Ben Rarick, executive director of the State Board of Education, said he was honored to be invited to the school.

“It is an honor to share in the culture and understand that you’ve taken a lot of time to do that for us,” he said.

Anthony Craig said he hopes that Native American voices will be heard at the state level.

“Sometimes it feels threatening to have a decision-making board come into our community whose ultimately making very big decisions for our children,” he said.

“In a state with 29 federally recognized tribes there has to be a seat at your table in thinking about the ongoing nature of what it means to improve schools,” he said.


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