For 2023, Stacey Snyder had a goal of centering resilience and reciprocity in her ELP classroom at Orange Elementary. So often, we overlook these dire characteristics of indigenous culture - the resilience of the plants and animals of the prairie ecosystem, the resilience of the people who were forced to change their lifestyle, and reciprocity in the sense that we can give back to the land and be receivers.
Through her grant application, Restoring Connections to Land: A Study of Extirpation, Stacey asked her students "What are our rights and responsibilities in regard to extirpated plants and animals?"
Why is this something Stacey’s 4th and 5th graders should learn? It started with Stacey’s participation in the National Endowment for Humanities: Buffalo Nations Landmark program, where teachers create a curriculum about the history of the bison (buffalo) and implement it in their classrooms. And that’s exactly what Stacey did!
To expand on this unit, students took a field trip to see an active buffalo ranch in Northeast Iowa - Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch. Students learned about the history of buffalo in Iowa, why these were and still are central to several Indigenous cultures, and applied their specific curiosity to seek evidence-based answers.
“This is an authentic, real-world challenge that is considered in our world today. They now have experience in tackling questions and being immersed in finding answers through experience, research, and stories.”
Often, students posed questions like "Why did we change everything, instead of learning about Indigenous culture? Why did people kill so many bison and didn't realize what they were doing?”
This lesson and experience allowed classroom innovation to thrive and skillfully prompted students to continue conversations and have unique perspectives for future learning. Stacey shared that her students are now considering what they learned when it comes to their responsibility to our native Iowan land. In a reflection, one student shared “learning about the problems we made and then how we solve them is my favorite part of this unit”. Plus, several students have requested to learn more about Indigenous cultures in Iowa.
This unique learning experience is not only innovative but also aligns seamlessly with the academic opportunities the WSF seeks to provide. Through Stacey’s determination and passion for out-of-the-box learning, resilience, and reciprocity became the center of a curriculum that didn’t just educate but also inspired a profound connection to our shared history and environment.