Starting next semester, Manhattan High School students will be able to take an independent study class in Native American studies, principal Michael Dorst said Wednesday.
The class, which will be geared toward students with indigenous ancestry, will examine topics like Native American history, geography, tribal government structures, ceremonies and traditions, culture, language and literature, Dorst said during a Manhattan-Ogden school board retreat.
There are 573 federally recognized tribes, and Dorst said he wanted to make sure any students in the independent study class received the support they needed in contacting and researching the tribes.
“Two kids might be doing the same class and not be official members of the tribe and have different experiences,” Dorst said. “It could be really hard for one kid and completely easy and welcoming for another kid, or a kid who already is an official member of their tribe.”
Oversight of the class will likely fall to English or social studies teachers. Dorst said those teachers will help guide the students and connect them with resources as well as people as part of their research.
Paula Hough, executive director of teaching and learning for the district, said that in the months since she started the job, she’s tried to brush up on the district’s previous conversations and commitments to including Native American education in its curriculum. She said she’s worked to include more Native American texts to use in school.
Hough said she had been inspired by Alex Redcorn, a K-State assistant professor of educational leadership and member of the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, who has previously worked with the district in its efforts to be more inclusive of Native American history and culture.
“(Redcorn) talks about the Hollywoodization of Native Americans, and what we inadvertently do,” Hough said. “We need to be more culturally responsive, as citizens and as educators and leaders. When Pocahontas comes up, we cannot associate that with Native American students in our class.”
Hough said the district’s Native American curriculum will focus on positive ways to integrate that education into the classrooms, rather than simply listing items to avoid.
“We need to make sure that we are supporting our educators and making sure they’re understanding the why of it,” she said. “That’s a conversation I know needs to happen now, and it needs to come from and be supported from this table so that students can feel that this is a place where they all are represented.”
Board member Leah Fliter said she’s happy to have the board revisit previous conversations on the issue. While the district has made progress on integrating Native American curriculum, she said the district has to “walk the walk” if it’s going to continue using the Indian as a mascot for the high school.
Board member Dave Colburn said he had crafted the motion to expand the district’s Native American curriculum, but he wants to also do more to educate the community. He said the district has a moral obligation to teach the community the history of the land, which he said was stolen from the Kaw people.
“My vision was not just about the kids but about the community,” he said. “A big reason the Indian name stayed was not the kids but the community, and I think it is incumbent on us to educate the community.”
The board also discussed the district’s committee on diversity and inclusion. Committee chairwoman Susanne Glymour said the committee has focused on identifying and recruiting community members to join the committee to ensure the committee itself represents the community’s diversity in ethnicity, religion, education and cultural experiences.
Glymour said the committee is working on creating a page on the district’s website for the committee to share ideas with teachers, students and community members on how to approach diversity and inclusion differently.
Superintendent Marvin Wade said the district has focused on diversity in its teacher hiring. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the candidates themselves are minorities, but that they come to the district with experience in diverse, multicultural environments.
Colburn said that locally, community members think of the Little Apple as a diverse region, but prospective teachers from cities like Dallas might not make that same assumption. He said during his tenure on the school board, it’s been challenging to get teachers to come to Manhattan, despite the university.
Board member Katrina Lewison said that was a defeatist attitude and that there haven’t been any significant thrusts for diversity in the district’s teaching force in the recent past. She suggested changing the district’s strategy in pursuing diverse hires.
Glymour said the committee’s efforts would indirectly lead to improved outcomes for the district’s students.
“We’re focusing on these things with the conviction that these pieces will have an impact on disproportionality and discipline,” Glymour said. “It will have an impact on gaps in achievement. It will have an impact on the way the high school is already measuring post-graduation success.”