The goal of the project was to expose the children of each classroom to a different cultural experience in a safe and open atmosphere where discussion and ideas were encouraged and diversity was respected. The hope was that the children would be left with an interest in learning about, and respect for, different ways of living within the human family.
In August 1995, the Grand Rapids adult participants traveled to Cass Lake to meet with Marolyn Losh to discuss the project and subsequent planning meetings were held among the Grand Rapids contingent. At the beginning of the 1995-96 school year, Peg Schwob informed the parents of her students about the project and encouraged their participation. Some of the parents did attend the various activities, including helping to chaperone the children when they visited each other's school.
In October, after getting to know new students, Peg Schwob introduced the project to them, explaining that: 1) the two classrooms would be exchanging letters and photographs; 2) they would be hearing stories and tales about the Native American culture; 3) they would do some activities with Native American artists; and 4) each group of children would visit the other at their respective schools. Patty Jo taught the children some greetings in the Ojibwe language.
The children were asked to draw pictures of how Native Americans dress, live, play, and work. The children were then divided into four groups, each working with an adult, and developed lists of ideas regarding Native American: appearance, speech, location now and long ago, schools, fun, dress, food, work, and concerns. These ideas were listed on the blackboard so that all the children could see what the other groups had developed. This was the basis for assessing the children's beliefs about Native Americans at the starting point of the project and evaluating how their beliefs had changed by the end of the project.
The project continued throughout the school year, during which time:
1. The children exchanged group and individual letters and photographs; greetings for Valentine's Day and Easter; and a thank-you after the Southwest children visited the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School.
2. Cynthia and Charlotte delivered the initial letters to the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School and helped to engage the children there in the project.
3. Patty Jo visited the Southwest classroom several times, teaching Ojibwe greetings, names for animals, and other words and telling stories including those of Chiefs Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig. She also displayed a dance outfit and demonstrated some traditional dance steps to Native American music.
4. Three Native American traditional artists visited the Southwest classroom: Storyteller Alan Wilson brought in various articles, including the Peace Drum and told the story of how it had averted bloodshed between the Ojibwe and the Sioux in the 19th century, as well as telling other stories; Carol White, Beadworker and Art Instructor at the Bug-O-Ne-Ge-Shig School, displayed some typical work and then helped the children to make some beaded jewelry; and Fluteplayer and Dancer Bradley Downwind demonstrated his talents in full regalia.
5. Cynthia and Charlotte visited the classroom various times to read Ojibwe stories to the children, which sometimes led to discussion of Ojibwe history and culture.
6. Peg used everyday opportunities to reinforce the concept of respect for individuals and different cultures.
By the time the students from Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School visited the Southwest School in March, the children were all very excited to meet each other. Even more exciting for the Southwest students was their visit to the Bug-O-Nay-Ge-Shig School in May, when they participated in a pow-wow and were honored by a special song.
Over the course of the project, the Southwest students enjoyed learning about Ojibwe language and culture while also learning about many similarities between the children of the two cultures. This was demonstrated by the changes in their drawings of how Native Americans dress, live, work, and play, and especially by their perception regarding what a Native American school is like. At the beginning of the year, they suggested that in a Native American school the children would: write with a stick in the dirt or with a charred twig; sit on the ground; have dirt floors in the classroom; have a giant tepee for a school building; and wear fringed deerskin clothing. At the end of the year they reported that the Native American school has: floors; tables and chairs; a nice, big building; two pet fish in the classroom along with a plant greenhouse and "cool" rocks; and most impressive of all, a "great" playground.
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