New Hopi High teacher says looking at your past is the way forward

Mariquit “Kit” Palabyab (center), the new Native American studies teacher at Hopi Jr/Sr High School poses with Hopi High students Quaidin Ben, Brooky Harding, Olivia Adams and Mariah Namingha. (Stan Bindell/NHO)

Mariquit “Kit” Palabyab (center), the new Native American studies teacher at Hopi Jr/Sr High School poses with Hopi High students Quaidin Ben, Brooky Harding, Olivia Adams and Mariah Namingha. (Stan Bindell/NHO)

POLACCA, Ariz. — Mariquit “Kit” Palabyab, who is Filipino-American, is the new Native American Studies (NAS) teacher at Hopi Jr/Sr High School.

Palabyab, who moved to Hopi from Prescott Valley, said she wanted to teach at HJSHS because she feels she could be of service to the students.

“Prior to that (Prescott Valley), I was in the Philippines and Maine. It still feels like this is my first year back in the U.S.,” she said.

Palayab said she is thrilled about teaching Native American studies (NAS).

“I’ve been an English teacher so long, so it’s nice to stretch my Humanities degree muscles with this amazing content and what is beautiful about my situation is that I am building the program,” she said. “The principal has been open minded to fresh and updated material and with the help of Haskell Indian Nations University, I have a new reading list to inspire our students. The students in this school connect with this subject, so I find it a perfect platform to empower them to have pride in who they are and what they can achieve.”

Palayab said she is grateful for culturally sensitive institutions that understand her dual-cultural upbringing. She said this upbringing affects how she understands and processes everything.

“I want to give the same level of respect and consideration that I ask for my culture,” she said.

Her NAS classes are working on reflective papers and tribal posters. She is teaching students writing and research technique, so they will think critically and make meaningful references on their work.

“History can be a bunch of gibberish and old news if you don’t know how to decipher its meaning and look for the right sources,” she said.

Palayab said NAS is important because it is the stories of the first people who took care of this land. She said colleague Lendrick Lomayesetwa shared the most beautiful metaphor that describes the reason for NAS perfectly.

“You can’t plant corn in a straight row without looking back every now and then,” Lomayestewa told her.

Palayab said this means you cannot move forward without understanding where you came from.

Palayab said there are many Native American heroes, but the ones of importance today are the ones making positive strides for their people, whether that is at schools, tribal council, government sectors or in professional institutions.

“It is important for my students to identify the heroes they have right here. It is definitely going to be a discussion this semester,” she said.

Working with students

Palayab said the students at HJSHS amaze her because of the talent, strength, courage and perseverance they show every day. She expects the students to try to listen with open ears and minds so she can help them help themselves.

“Knowledge is power, but they need to take it and make it for themselves,” she said.

Palayab said she encourages students with positive encouraging talk and incentives that give them healthy competition.

If a student is not doing his or her work, Palayab investigates to see if there is a problem. There is usually something that is causing the problem. If the problem is just behavioral, she and the student will discuss alternative solutions. Often, the problem may be that the task is too hard or too easy.

Working with staff

Palayab said the staff at HJSHS has made her feel welcome.

“I can’t remember feeling more welcome in a new institution. I’ve only been here 3.5 weeks and already I’m collaborating with other teachers creating projects and events for our kids with the amazing administration, gaining priceless insight on our kids and how to unlock their learning,” she said.

Palayab has taught English, ESL and AVID. This is the first Native American school she has worked at. She earned her bachelor of arts in Humanities with a professional certificate in communication at the University of Asia and Pacific in the Philippines and her master of arts in teaching English as a second language from University of Southern California (USC).

Palayab likes teaching AVID because she enjoys seeing the students apply the organizational skills to the other subjects. That is why she likes doing binder checks, so she can see their notes from their other subjects.

“It’s a very practical class and the educators I’ve met who teach the same subject across the country are amazing and so open to collaboration,” she said.

She came to HJSHS by a “happy accident.” She visited a member of the Up With People alumni and Palayab and Tiffany Bahnimptewa attended one of the village’s basket ceremonies last year. Her older sister, Eva, was at Tiffany’s house and found out Palayab was a teacher, so she called the principal who encouraged her to apply.

Born in California, Palayab moved to the Philippines when she was 13 and graduated from Sacred Heart High School. She played tennis, performed Philippine native dances with the high school cultural dance group and was on the Taekwondo team. She was also a feature writer for the school paper.

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