empathize with students, educators spend a week in Monument Valley
cooking fry bread and shoveling manure
Indian students in Utah schools often feel disconnected. They are
far from the land, culture and families they love, and they are
often misunderstood by teachers and peers.
group of educators is trying to change that.
2004, the group has taken about 30 educators, most of them school
counselors, to Monument Valley for a week to live among the Navajo,
including side trips to visit White Mesa Utes and the Hopis in northern
thought we had a good idea, but after our first year, we knew we
had a really good idea," said Janet Canyon, coordinator for
Title VII programs in Salt Lake City School District.
Monument Valley Workshop, as it's called, is a byproduct of the
No Child Left Behind Act. A presidential order directed states to
do a better job of educating American Indian students. A Utah task
force has been tackling various aspects of that goal since 2002.
This particular subcommittee focuses on school counseling, and is
composed of state education office staffers, five school counselors,
a business teacher from Monument Valley High School and the arts-education
coordinator for the Utah Arts Council.
brainstorming ways to help school counselors better understand American
Indian culture, the group was struck by the idea that counselors
had to see, not just read about, reservations.
So one week each summer, eight to 12 educators spend part of that
week living with Navajo families, helping with such chores as shoveling
manure, moving sheep or cooking fry bread.
not a vacation. This is not going down to sightsee," said Tom
Sachse, a specialist with the Utah Office of Education and subcommittee
Jackson, a teacher at Monument Valley who coordinates logistics
for the annual workshop, says Navajo families vie for the chance
to host the guests each summer.
enjoy it as much as the person coming to their homes," she
art is so integral to the culture, the educators spend time with
beadworkers and basket makers, said Jean Irwin of the Utah Arts
learn the sound a baby eagle makes from listening to a White Mesa
Ute flute player. They also learn about steadfastness from a 94-year-old
Hopi in Arizona who was a World War II code talker and who makes
also eat what the natives eat, and that means a lot of mutton.
want them to have the total experience," said Irwin. "We
have to warn them ahead of time: This is not the time for pink tofu
and alfalfa sprouts."
they take away, several counselors said, is respect for American
Indian culture. And that helps them be more empathetic with students
from other cultures.
Deamer, a counselor at Fremont High School in Plain City, said the
week changed her life.
worked in the hot sun alongside a Navajo man who was building a
deck on the back of his trailer in 2007.
had great conversations, and she came to understand how Navajos
think about history.
helped me to be able to see other people's point of view,"
she said. "There's more tolerance and love for people in general.
I need to listen to them long enough to understand where they're
Jones, a counselor at the Jordan Applied Technology Center in West
Jordan, said she signed up because she wanted to be a better advocate
for Indian students and because, as an Ohio native, she knew little
of their culture.
first time I went to the rez, it was a form of culture shock,"
said Jones. "It's quieter there."
2006, Jones stayed with a Navajo family, delivered water to seniors
and oiled horse saddles. This past summer, she collected firewood
for Monument Valley High School.
and attempting beadwork and baskets, she said, helped her realize
that some students learn best with their hands, not books.
said she has learned much about American Indians. They generally
take excellent care of their elders, for instance. And "they
have this marvelous sense of humor."
she shares what she has learned with other counselors in the district,
Jones said the experience helps her better connect with American
student's face lit up recently when Jones mentioned Monument Valley.
Jones made a point to praise the girl's native culture of Navajo.
hoping that girl, when she has a problem, will feel more comfortable
talking to me," said Jones. "Or if she's looking for ways
to pay for college, we'll be able to have open conversations."