Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior
Chippewa Indians Public School
Lac du Flambeau elder and educator Carol Amour defines ENVISION in this way: "Founded in the 2012-13 academic year, ENVISION is a project-based, service-learning program that uses Ojibwe pedagogies and methodologies to reach at-risk youth (ages 10-14) and to help them return to the good path. ENVISION's mission is to create a culturally responsive learning environment so participating students can learn to their fullest potential, develop leadership skills, and make a successful transition to high school with the opportunity to go on to college or technical school. The ENVISION students are engaged in the design of their curriculum, and the group works as a holistic cohort with intergenerational mentorship rather than dispersing to grade levels or through competitive pedagogies.
ENVISION's aim is to create a new generation of community leaders, equally versed in traditional culture and Western education, who will be able to advance decolonization within the Lac du Flambeau community." ENVISION has provided the school with a great opportunity to focus on culturally responsive teaching strategies and differentiated instruction. ENVISION has also allowed them to look at what works and what doesn't work at their school and in their community.
How did ENVISION come about?
In the fall of 2012 Ron Grams, principal of The Lac du Flambeau (LdF) School, met with Doreen Wawronowicz, Ojibwe language and culture teacher, and Carol Amour, former teacher at the LdF School and former Curriculum Director at the Indian Community School in Milwaukee. He expressed his concern that the needs of several middle school students were not being met and that they were at risk. He challenged them to design a program to meet the needs if these students. Some of the twelve were special education students who were spending less and less time in the regular classroom. Some were students with extremely high absentee rates. Some were students who had either shut down or were doing no work. Others were students who were becoming increasingly oppositional in the regular classroom. A few were exceptionally bright and not being challenged in their current setting.
The two women began their work by assembling and reading a "library" of work done by indigenous scholars on culturally responsive education. They talked with elders in their community and colleagues with extensive experience in the field of culturally responsive education. Again and again they heard about the importance of being inclusive and collaborative. Early on they made a commitment to listening to students, staff, and community before planning anything.
Some of the questions they asked were:
- If you could design an educational program, what would it look like?
- What would help you learn more easily in school?
- What makes a good teacher?
- What gets in the way of your learning now?
What did students and the community say they wanted?
- Culture as an integral part of the program.
- Teaching strategies that were congruent with the learning styles of the students.
- Opportunity for hands on learning.
- Assets based approach.
- Lead management rather than boss management.
- All stakeholders having a say.
- Collaborative learning.
How is ENVISION funded?
Many of our funding sources are listed below. We sent out appeals, spoke at association meetings, and wrote grants. The school also found funds to support the project and, for the 2013-2014 school year paid the salary of the Lead Teacher/Site Coordinator. We will continue to seek funding until the program is integrated fully into the Personalized Learning paradigm toward which the school is moving. The School Board has voted to continue funding the Lead teacher/Site Coordinator's salary for the 2014-2015 school year.
We have also been able to raise funds by cooking traditional foods for educational and cultural events, painting and selling birdhouses, and presenting workshops. We are at work on a book about the ENVISION experience which we will sell to raise money for travel and supplies.
What are some of the key concepts of the ENVISION philosophy?
- It is a collaboration of students, staff, and community.
- Culture is at the core in form, in materials, and in content. It is not an add on.
- It is a work in progress.
- The program is dedicated to finding ways to help each student to maximize his or her potential, to be prepared for high school and beyond, and to be a self directed learner.
- The program builds an attitude of community service and servant leadership.
What are some culturally responsive classroom teaching strategies incorporated into ENVISION practice?
- We begin every day with an opening circle.
- We end every day with a closing circle.
- Decisions are made collaboratively.
- A variety of learning styles are accommodated.
- Great importance is placed on respect, responsibility, reciprocity, and relationship.
- The seven Ojibwe teachings of love, humility, honesty, etc. are the foundations of classroom management.
- The "classroom" has no "walls".
- Community members provide much of the teaching and often lead activities.
- Elders are welcome in the classroom at all times.
- The teacher is a facilitator and guide, not a boss.
- Seasonal cultural activities take precedence.
- The program is assets based.
What are some other initiatives that have taken place at the Lac du Flambeau Public school since the inception of ENVISION?
- Midwashiiwe Wigamig: A gathering place for elders, community members, staff and students. Grew out of an idea brought forth in a listening circle. Resources available for culturally responsive teaching and a place to meet and interact informally.
- Community Outreach Coordinator: Getting news about the school out into the community. Bringing the community and its ideas into the school.
- Culturally Responsive Classrooms Coordinator. Helping all staff to get the training and resources they need to provide a culturally responsive school environment.
- Weekly e-newsletter done in partnership with the Tribal Communications Department.
- Listening Circles. Staff listens to the concerns and ideas of community members.
- School Improvement groups. Parents, students, and staff meet to discuss school issues such as assessment and bus policy and make recommendations.
- Incorporation of books by Native authors into mainstream curriculum.
- Meetings of Pupil services personnel with community members on how to be more culturally responsive.
Who helped make ENVISION a reality?
There were a number or individuals, agencies, and organizations that put their time and talent towards this project. Click here for a partial listing of those who made contributions toward ENVISION.