Cultural awareness award for school

MARYSVILLE — The staff of Quil Ceda-Tulalip Elementary School has received a cultural awareness award from the Washington Education Association for its efforts to use Native American cultural practices as part of its plan to increase academic achievement.

The award was presented Thursday at the education organization’s annual convention in Bellevue.

Quil Ceda-Tulalip Elementary School has 540 students in kindergarten through fifth grades.

Arden Watson, president of the Marysville Education Association, nominated the school for the award, citing its dedication for integrating Tulalip and American Indian culture and academic improvement.

The program for integrating culture with increased emphasis on academic achievement was funded through a federal School Improvement Grant. The grants were awarded to low-achieving schools in each state, as measured on statewide tests.

While the school was under pressure to made big academic gains, “the staff did not bend from their core belief that culture matters,” Watson said.

“They have been intentional about weaving in Native American culture in their school and in doing so that empowered kids to feel like they can be successful,” Watson said.

Irene Bare, an academic support coordinator at the school, said that initially the staff’s focus was to have the students believe in themselves. “That work transferred to us,” she said.

Staff has seen the results of their efforts, she said. As one example, last year about 5 percent of entering kindergarten students knew 12 letter sounds. By the end of the school year, 95 percent of students had reached that goal, she said.

The result, she said has been “a turnaround wave” of progress. “Sometimes it might not show up on the state assessment tests right away, but we can see the kids have grown,” she said.

Anthony Craig, co-principal at the school, said that each day starts with a morning assembly lasting seven to 10 minutes.

There’s traditional drumming and singing led by students, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Many students who aren’t members of the Tulalip Tribes participate in the drumming, too, he said, “learning from kids who do this every day.”

Craig said he also likes to deliver a daily message to the students, such as perseverance when things get hard.

Manya McFarlene, a third grade teacher, said that when the school’s assemblies were first begun, only a few students would step up to join a teacher who was a member of the Tulalip Tribes leading the daily singing.

“Now our students are leading the assembly,” she said. “The girls are dancing. It’s beautiful to see. The older ones are showing the way.”

McFarlene said she’s also seen a difference on how students prepare for testing. Pre-test drills used to upset students. “They knew that they didn’t know the information,” she said.

Teachers responded by telling the students that they understood that they didn’t know all the answers. The pre-test drills were to help teachers identify what specific problems the students were having.

“Now you see the smiles,” McFarlene said. One third grade student wrote on her pre-test drill paper: ‘I don’t’ know this yet, but I will know it after you teach it to me.”

Not all students reach where they need to be, but they’ve all made improvements, McFarlene said. “That’s what we pay attention to, the growth that’s been made.”

Bare said it meant a lot to have people outside the school recognize what’s been accomplished.

“I wish the whole staff could have been there with us,” Bare said of being in Bellevue to accept the award. “They deserve to have that celebration.”We’re so immersed in the work we often don’t take the time to celebrate.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

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