POULSBO — A state Senate bill would require Washington colleges to include Native American curriculum as part of a mandatory graduation requirement for teachers.
Pacific Northwest history and government courses are required classes in any Washington state teacher-preparation program, but now these classes will be required to include lessons developed by the state Office of Native Education and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
The bill, SB 5028, was designed to complement a state law that requires public schools to teach Native American history, using a curriculum called “Since Time Immemorial.” The bill, approved by the state Senate, is now before the state House of Representatives for consideration.
If approved, Washington teachers would be better equipped to teach the lessons from “Since Time Immemorial” to their students.
According to the bill: “This will provide the colleges of education with a tool to teach teachers about the OSPI curriculum, and how to use it. It will also brief them on how to contact local tribes in the school districts they are in, to elicit their support in customizing some of the curriculum, especially around governmental structure. It’s providing a tool.”
Joan Banker is an administrative program specialist with the state Office of Native Education. Banker said the lessons learned in “Since Time Immemorial” can offer students more than just an understanding of local Native American history.
“An understanding of tribes — and tribal relations and tribal sovereignty — is just going to be a boon for them when they are in the workplace and working with tribes,” Banker said. “It’s just understanding your neighbors and understanding tribal people and that they were the first people here. How do you teach about Washington state without including [tribal] history?”
Despite the passage of 5028, Banker said the Office of Native Education won’t be scrambling to figure out how to bring its lessons to the state’s colleges.
“We’ve been training at the teacher colleges for years,” Banker said. “We’ve trained at Evergreen, we’ve trained at Western, we trained at Central [and at] University of Washington. Rather than trying to catch everybody after they already graduated, let’s give them some knowledge before they graduate.”
She added, “Now we just have to catch the teachers who are coming in from other states — who we hear don’t even know that there are tribes in Washington.”
Joe Davalos, superintendent of the Suquamish Tribe Education Department, said ensuring incoming teachers have a familiarity with Native American education right out the gate is an important step in ensuring that the STI curriculum is effectively taught in classrooms.
The number of schools using the STI curriculum since it was recommended by OSPI has been troubling, Davalos said.
“OSPI has had it as an OSPI-recommended curriculum online at their website for years. We’ve been very frustrated though with the lack of K-12 systems accessing it.”
Even after STI became mandatory in Washington schools, Davalos said determining whether it was actually being used has been problematic.
“Whenever you try to implement something new in a mandated kind of way, it’s very difficult to track if people are doing it or not. All you can do is ask,” he said. “There is no real mechanism for policing that activity. How does anybody know that it’s actually happening. I mean, you want to trust everybody, but at the same time how do you know it’s happening?”
He added, “School districts that were going to adopt a new social studies curriculum were supposed to be consulting with the local tribes that were in their area in the creation of that textbook adoption, and that doesn’t happen very well.”
That is, Davalos said, until Dr. Laurynn Evans took over as superintendent of North Kitsap School District.
Tim Garrison is the director of curriculum and instruction for North Kitsap schools. Garrison said that when planning a curriculum, working within the boundaries of class time can sometimes seem like an upstream battle and often results in sections of STI being cut from lesson plans.
“If you look at any of the subjects and you read through what the teachers’ standards are and if you look at an adopted, recommended, required curriculum, you can almost spend a whole day on just one of any of those subjects that they’re talking about,” Garrison said. “Same with social studies and STI. I really don’t think the intent is that every teacher in the district is going to plough through that whole curriculum.”
The STI curriculum, Garrison said, serves more as a framework or road map for teachers to ensure that students walk away with a working knowledge of local tribal history, culture and government. “I don’t think you have to follow it like a script, so we’re going to do less in some places and more in other places,” Garrison said.
In deciding which lessons to cut from the STI curriculum and which ones to teach, the district has been working with the Suquamish Tribe and Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.
“What we’re doing is we’re sort of putting a local touch on the STI curriculum,” Garrison said. “We’re getting to the point now where we’ve got the first unit drafted out and it’s being piloted by some of our teachers.”
Garrison said this approach is two-fold: it satisfies the desired learning outcomes for the required STI curriculum, while also tailoring the lessons to fit within the context of the two tribes residing within Kitsap County.
With the next generation of teachers entering the field, Davalos said the ones who have already been introduced to Native American education in Washington colleges will be more prepared to satisfy the learning objectives outlined by the STI curriculum.
“That is probably the best way to have done [this],” Davalos said. “They then become ingrained and engrossed in it and assume that that’s what they’re supposed to be doing anyway.
“They then become the early converts.”
— Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.