A multi-generational team of volunteers gave some sheep corrals in the Leupp area a facelift as part of the National and Global Service Learning Day.
The event kicked off with a breakfast and presentation of the STAR School's Learn and Serve Youth Leadership Team's Dine Elder Help Project (DEHP). Various dignitaries attended the kick-off presentation, including Walter Phelps (the Native American Liaison for Congressman Rick Renzi), Coconino County Supervisor Deb Hill and Jan Brite, the director of Arizona's Learn and Serve Project, Arizona Department of Edcuation.
The corral repair component of DEHP--one of seven separate projects--was the brainchild of Brandon Montour, a seventh grade student of the STAR School.
Montour was inspired by his grandparents, Elsie and Raymond Phelps, who still maintain a sheep camp. Mentored by program co-director Ralph Drake, Montour's project received a financial shot in the arm in the form of a Disney Minnie-Hand grant. This grant funded new construction material.
On the morning of April 22, the seven leadership team members received recognition from dignitaries. They are Rhiannon Billie, Crystal Drake, Jasmine Golding, Bariah Howell, Murphy Luther, Brandon Montour and Monique Reveles. Each team leader is assisted by a co-pilot. Project co-pilots are Kevin Begay, Lauren Claw, Nicholas Mitchell, Kennedy Slowtalker, Afton Solomon, Antoinette Tohannie, and Kee Wilson.
The director of the Learn and Serve Project at the STAR School, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that due to the loss of bus driver, community member, friend and relative to many at the school--Lucinda Belin--attendance for the event was diminished. Members of the school community had volunteered to prepare and serve food for Belin's funeral only the day before, and many were honoring the Navajo tradition of four days of rest after such an event.
"I know that Lucinda would be here with us if she could, so I would like to dedicate this effort to her," the project director said.
"There are many, many people here I am thankful for," Dr. Mark Sorensen said. "I want to say something about the name of our school--Service to All Relations. My wife and I (the co-founders of the school) were thinking about 'Star'-- but we wanted to send a further message of how we wanted to be different and how we wanted to serve the community.
"It was Kate that came up with Service to All Relations--STAR--and this gathering here is an example of that," Sorensen said.
"We are going out into the community today after the kids show you what they have been doing. Some will be repairing corrals, some will be hauling water--we realize that you don't feel connected to your community until you do something for someone else."
Sorensen explained that the youth from rural reservation communities have the tendency to feel like what is really happening in the world is happening somewhere else--in the big city somewhere.
"For our kids to feel really good about where they come from, they must feel connected to their community," Sorensen said. "They get connected by helping others in the community."
Franklin Kahn, a grandparent from the community and a member of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society's Elder Council said, "I'm really delighted to be here with you, and it is so good that our students have found a school. I am so happy that the school is here. I am grateful for this occasion today," Kahn said. "We want our students to be number one. They are learning leadership skills here, and I am delighted."
To Tom Tomas, who has six of the seven student leaders in his seventh and eighth grade classroom, spoke of his passion for service learning.
"It comes down to helping our youth relate to the older generations--letting their wisdom, values and language to take root in our children through different types of programs.
"My role as an educator is ensuring that the curriculum maintains intensity and integrity, one that respects the life of all beings--our elders, our leaders, our families and our environment--and not allow the instruction to dim the lights and spirits of the children--to actually make the youth stronger and then they become the culture bearers for the future, to help things grow for future generations."
Tomas said that service learning gives students a real-world application to classroom-taught knowledge.
"Having students in classrooms in rows, having them store knowledge until high school and then being expected to apply it, is working backwards," Tomas said.
Steve Babcock, another teacher and member of the Learn and Serve team, talked about how service learning projects tie into state standards--a list of learning goals that must be met to meet Arizona educational standards.
"The first thing that ties us into the state standards is the student voice. All of these are student driven projects--the students are able to use the skills in language arts by them doing reports, by preparing the presentations that they have here. One of the state standards is presenting and being able to present. I can tell you that for the corral and outhouse projects the boys have been working on, they had to do the budgeting, measuring and planning using math skills. They have gone out into the community, interviewing people to find out what the needs of the community are."
Walter Phelps, the Native American liaison for Renzi represented the congressman, delivering signed letters to the 14 students who spearheaded the Dine Elder Help Project.
Phelps introduced himself in Navajo, as well as family members in the audience. He explained explained that Arizona Congressional District One encompasses seven tribes. The previous week, Phelps joined the congressman on the Navajo reservation on a trip across the reservation, where the pair listened to the concerns of several wide-flung communities.
"I was actually sitting here trying to remember--I went to Leupp Boarding School for eight years, I went to Coconino High School for the four remaining years. I went to college and in all my years in elementary and high school, I was trying to think if there was a program that I was exposed to similar to this one--zero. I can't think of one. I cannot remember a program similar to this one that went out and helped the community. I'm very pleased with this project--I think it is a model project.
"We know that President Bush is trying to cut back education budgets," Phelps said. "I know that your congressman is committed to fighting to maintain education budgets."
The letters Phelps distributed acknowledged the efforts of the students.
"I am very pleased to learn that you have been selected to participate on the STAR School 'Learn and Serve Leadership Team.' I know the positive impact this program will have on students and families at the STAR School," Renzi wrote.
"As a proud father of 12 children, I care deeply for the well-being of our children and our education system. It is important to provide all students with a quality education, one that challenges and enriches you as a student in all areas," Renzi continued. "Please be assured that I will continue to fight to bring hard-earned taxpayer dollars back to our congressional district to benefit youth like you."
Jan Brite said that her efforts to obtain Learn and Serve America funding came from personal philosophy.
I am an Appalachian hillbilly--I grew up in a very rural community a lot like the ones that surround us here, except that we had a lot more trees," Brite said. "We did not have a lot of resources in our schools. Being from that environment, I was very much an experiential learner. I wasn't a particularly bright kid but I could usually get it if I could do it.
"When I went into teaching I felt very strongly that we overlooked the abilities of many of our kids simply because we bought into the notion of--I'm calling it the absorption and regurgitation of knowledge," Brite continued. "I found that what we do is, we sit in front of our classrooms and we just spill out all of our wisdom on our content. We know how valuable it is, and we know how our kids will be able to use this at some time in their lives, but I think the age-old question that comes into the classroom is, 'Why do I need to know this, and what am I going to use this for?' I do believe that when we spill out information to our students and then expect them to spill it back to us on a test, many times they can, but afterwards it is lost.
Brite said that teachers of course worry about the three "Rs" in education, but strongly believes in a fourth--"Relevance."
"If we fail to teach our kids the relevance, it is lost learning. If we fail to teach our kids how that information relates to their lives, it will not stick. If what we teach them relates to their lives--if we give them content information we want them to know and then we give them a chance to practice that skill and they are making valuable lasting contributions to their community--that is what Learn and Serve America is about."
"It is a special honor for me to take a moment to recognize the success of the Learn and Serve Dine' Elder Help Project," said Deb Hill, Coconino County Supervisor for District Four--the district in which the STAR School service learning program has concentrated.
"This student-led effort brings together all of the elements of service learning and the results are certainly commendable," Hill said. "It is not often that we hear about youth that are so determined to make a positive difference in our world, yet this small school has produced a program with big results.
"Recognizing and honoring our elders is a tenant of many cultures," Hill added. "At the STAR School, students are encouraged to look for ways to combine the recognition of their elders into multi-generational learning efforts. This particular program really stands out in that regard.
"It is from experiences like this that inspiration spreads, and what began as a small flicker of light in the darkness spreads to a blaze that warms our souls," Hill concluded, offering her congratulations to the Learn and Serve mentors and student leadership team.
Finally, various students stood to share hard work--in Flagstaff nursing homes, food drives, outhouse construction, water hauling, and gardening and landscaping projects in the community.
Afterwards students along with their mentors and Jan and Alvin Brite loaded into vehicles and headed for the sheep corrals and a full weekend of service learning.
On May 5, following the la bor-intensive weekend Renzi further recognized the STAR School students. "The students of the STAR school deserve praise for their innovative and worthwhile projects that celebrate the Navajo culture," Renzi said from his Washington office. "These projects are working to reinforce the bond between the elders and this young vibrant generation. I congratulate them on their hard work and great ideas and I am proud to represent these students in Congress."