Defer students school parents in Native American customs

by Bob Gaetjens | Editor Published:

Streetsboro -- Circles have great symbolic meaning for Native Americans, serving as a reminder of the interconnected, cyclical nature of life, according to a presentation by fourth-graders at Henry Defer Intermediate School.

Several hundred parents were on hand Nov. 26 as the fourth-graders shared what they've learned about Native Americans during the past six weeks in their music, art and social studies classes.

The integrated approach teachers at Defer took to the project, which has become an annual tradition, is one that may have pleased the Native Americans, given their view that much in life is cyclical and interconnected.

Taking an integrated approach to learning and adding Native American music and art to the history lesson gives students a deeper appreciation of the culture, said fourth-grade teacher Kathy Betley.

"They see that learning ties in to all different subjects, and they love it," she said.

Betley said she met at the beginning of the school year with Defer Art Teacher Samantha Copthorne and Music Teacher BethAnn Hepburn to outline the six-week-long unit and decide what do to at the assembly.

The assembly reflected the integrated approach the group took, which also included all the fourth-grade social studies teachers.

Betley said she believes education in general may be headed toward more integrated teaching, reflecting the state's emphasis in the Common Core on higher-level thinking and problem solving on its standardized testing in coming years.

And it taught parents about Native American culture, as well.

Parents Anand and Leona Persadi were among those who learned from the presentation.

"This was our first introduction to a pow-wow," said Leona. "It was very nice; we did learn a lot."

Anand said he was impressed by the students' performances.

"The kids read well," he said. "There was a lot of confidence in their performances. It was very well put together."

During the assembly, each class had a part, and the entire grade performed several songs, including a medley of "Land of the Silver Birch" and "My Paddle." "The Bear Song" was sung at the beginning of the ceremony, and "The Stone Passing Song" was performed about halfway through the event. The "Stone Passing Song" went along with a game in which a stone was passed around behind students' backs and another student had to guess who had the stone at the end.

Different classes shared different aspects of Native American culture, including games, crafts and story-telling, which included the "Iroquois Thanksgiving Prayer," which also gave listeners a clue about the values held by Native Americans.

Before the Nov. 26 "pow-wow," students created Native American necklaces during art classes, under Copthorne's direction. The pendants of the necklaces were based on the Leo Petroglyphs carved into stone in around 1,000 years ago by Native Americans living in what is now Jackson County.

"Student took inspiration from the petroglyphs for their necklace designs," she explained during the pow-wow. "They designed personalized petroglyphs based on what they saw of the Leo Petroglyph."

Betley said she will meet with Copthorne and Hepburn to discuss what went well during the pow-wow and what they'd like to change, beginning the planning for next year's Native American unit.

She said this is probably the biggest integrated unit planned by the fourth-grade during the school year, and, as a result, students get a more well-rounded appreciation of culture.

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