Bridging Teacher Education, STEM and The Lakota Culture
From 2012 to 2015, I managed the Rising Star Educator Program* (RSEP) for the South Dakota Discovery Center. When I first started to implement RSEP the focus was strictly on ensuring that those who participated gained the content and skill set to effectively teach STEM in schools on South Dakota American Indian reservations. Although this remains the primary goal of RSEP, the Rising Star Educator Program has become so much more.
RSEP not only represents the growth of the Oglala Lakota College and Sinte Gleska College pre-service education students in the teaching profession, but also in personal and spiritual growth. I believe the Lakota Values on which we focused – woksape (wisdom), woohitika (bravery), wowacintanka (fortitude), wacantognaka (generosity) – are the foundation of the Rising Star Educator Program.
An underlying theme evolved as well. Even though I sensed it in my early conversations with the students, it wasn’t until after the first woyaksape (circle of encouragement) that I could name that underlying theme: Hope. Hope not only for themselves as individuals, but also hope for their family and extended family, and for their culture. This is my reflection on why I believe the four Lakota virtues are the foundation of RSEP and hope is the underlying theme that brings everything full circle.
The Rising Star Educator Program is a very demanding program. As I told the students when they signed on, it’s like having a part-time job. It was not easy, yet each of them was willing to sacrifice in different ways to reach their goal of doing what it takes to be a good teacher, coach, teacher mentor or encourager. Even though they couldn’t control the socio-economic and emotional challenges they encountered on a daily basis, (namely youth suicide, substance abuse and family illness), they chose to not let those challenges and obstacles stop them. They willingly endured these hardships, and chose to overcome whatever challenges or obstacles came their way. Even though there was significant professional and emotional support from RSEP coaches, the students’ willingness to overcome these obstacles had more to do with the students believing in themselves and the future generations than learning STEM content or pedagogy. They see themselves as hope for the future.
In RSEP, each student had to push themselves to meet the academic rigor of the program so he or she could move forward to become an awesome educator. But, what was very evident was their personal growth. For many of them, they had to come face-to-face with their insecurities. They were asked to work with teaching and STEM professionals, some of whom they knew, others they did not. Working with seasoned teachers and STEM professionals can be pretty intimidating! Yet, they went for it. They were asked to do many things in which they were not familiar. They really had to be brave and willing to go into the uncharted territory of writing 5E lesson plans, posting on Edmodo, creating a Livebinder, organizing STEM after school programs and summer camps, leaving their family for a week, presenting at conferences, and writing reflections where they critiqued their successes and identified areas for growth. Each of the students made the conscious choice to face their fears of insecurities, of failure. They chose to push themselves. They were launching hope.
I remember our first woyaksape. I was so overwhelmed at how generous the students were, not only in their words of encouragement, but in sharing their life and cultural experiences. Here I was an outsider; someone they really did not know, and yet they shared very personal experiences. What a humbling experience. The mentor teachers and coaches were very generous in sharing their cultural, educational, teaching and life experiences and providing emotional support with not only the students, but with each other. And the college professors had such great generosity as they shared precious time in the classroom so students could learn about RSEP, supported the students as they met the challenges, allowed us to meet in their office or during their class time, and supported us in our efforts – such great generosity.
And the RSEP students, when they had the opportunity to share their knowledge with the youth of their community – oh how moving it was to see, hear and/or read about the impact they had on those youth. I would literally get goosebumps. The students wonder and awe about that impact motivated them to keep moving forward despite what was thrown at them. They were sharing hope.
Wisdom is a life-long journey; it is a combination of education and life experiences. When the students shared and I heard their life experiences, the wisdom of humility and caring for others was very evident. However, the wisdom of perseverance is one that really stood out. The students knew that their choice to simultaneously pursue a teaching degree, work full time, be a parent and meet the rigor of RSEP would not be easy. Yet they chose to act on the wisdom of their elders and their life experiences. They knew that this is what they had to do. In seeing and listening to their wisdom, I witnessed and heard hope.
I consider myself very honored to have had the opportunity to not only be a part of these students’ journey to become awesome educators, but also that they allowed me to be a part of their personal journey. We became family.
In bringing this full circle, RSEP helped the students to bridge teacher education with their Lakota culture. The students came to better understand that they are the hope for their children, family, extended family and culture. They saw RSEP as a vehicle to help them move forward in their journey. In their heart they knew this is what they wanted to do; needed to do.
*The Rising Star Educator Program was funded by a grant from NASA’s Space Grant Innovative Pilot in STEM Education Program. Grant #NNX13AR35A.
Marie Steckelberg, EdD, is the owner of Steckelberg Consulting, LLC. She does contract work with the South Dakota Discovery Center.