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Greater perspectives

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Series of workshops provides Delaware teachers with tools to bring the state’s Indigenous and Latinx cultures into their classrooms

Thirty-six Delaware teachers and paraeducators participated in year three of the Indigenous and Latinx Delaware grant to learn about contemporary Latinx and Indigenous communities in the state.

The word “Lenape'' means “the people,” and for thousands of years Lenape lived in regions throughout Delaware, Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and parts of New York. But many Delawareans today, including public school teachers, don’t realize that the state is still home to the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware and the Nanticoke Indian Tribe, as well as multiple Latin American communities.

A project led by Barry Joyce, professor of history at the University of Delaware, is changing that misconception and shattering the myth that Native American history exists solely in the past.

“I’ve lived in Delaware since I was 6 months old. I’ve heard the word ‘Lenape’ in terms of construction, and the word ‘Nanticoke’ as far as the hospital, but I honestly never really learned about them,” said Suhey Matamoros, a fifth grade Spanish immersion teacher at Lulu Ross Elementary School in Milford, Delaware.

Suhey is one of 36 Delaware educators who participated in a series of seven workshops this year themed around “America-and Delaware-is our Home: The Indigenous and Latinx Experience from 1900 to the Present.”

The workshops were the final installment in a three-year program called "Indigenous and Latinx Delaware" (ILD). Joyce, in partnership with the National Council for History Education, received funding for ILD from a Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources grant. The first two years focused on “Pre-Columbian America” and “Indigenous/Latinx Nations: Colonialism, Transformation and Migrations, 1492-1900.”

Hidden histories

As UD’s social studies secondary education program co-coordinator, Joyce regularly visits area schools and sees first-hand how state curriculum standards are applied in classrooms.

“Delaware is unique in that if you look at the state standards for social studies, there is no content. There is a recommended curriculum, but that’s it,” he said.​

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​The final workshop of the year included demonstrations from members of the Red Blanket Singers, storyteller Ragghi Rain and Nanticoke dancer Adrienne​ Harmon.

Holly Golder, supervisor of social studies in the Red Clay School District, explained that Delaware’s broad standards allow for flexibility and creativity in school curriculum, but sometimes also result in very Euro-centric content.

“We saw that there were pieces missing in the story,” Joyce said. “And teachers wanted to know more about it.”

“This grant ensures that we have different stories and histories integrated into the curriculum,” added Golder, who acts as the social studies specialist for ILD.

Primary sources and community members

One goal of the grant is to encourage teachers to utilize the Library of Congress’ vast collection of primary sources. Golder said it can be daunting to search through millions of documents, and part of what she does for each workshop is demonstrate effective search methods, as well as highlighting specific resources for each topic.

“It is like the ‘people’s library,’” she said. “This is where we have the resources of our country.”

In developing the workshop structure, Joyce knew he also wanted to include modern perspectives and contemporary sources. Every workshop features community partners like Chief Dennis Coker of the Lenape Tribe of Delaware, members of the Nanticoke Indian Association, the Hispanic American Association of Delaware’s Ballet Folklorico Mexico Lindo and Eastern Cherokee storyteller Ragghi Rain, in addition to University historians and anthropologists.

“The speakers are extraordinary. They bring such relevance and tremendous perspective,” said Jackie Wager, multilingual teacher and coordinator of the bilingual family literacy program at Milton Elementary School, who has attended all three years of ILD.

“It’s not a predominantly white community speaking about others. It’s the community being able to represent themselves,” added Matamoros.

Classroom impact

One of Matamoros’ favorite speakers came to the January workshop on “Mexico and Central America in the 20th Century.” Chef Cristina Martinez of South Philly Barbacoa taught participants how to make corn tortillas, and they learned about the role of corn in Mayan communities. Matamoros developed a lesson plan for her students exploring the culinary, cultural and religious impact of corn.​

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​Making tortillas by hand helped Red Clay Consolidated School District’s Holly Golder, supervisor of social studies, and Anne Anastasia, multilingual learner instruction coach, understand the role of corn in Mayan communities during a workshop activity with chef Cristina Martinez of South Philly​ Barbacoa.

The March workshop enabled current Delaware high school students to share their perspective as well. Students from Hodgson Vo-Tech High School’s Latinos Unidos group spoke about why it was important for them to identify and connect with their community at school.

Krissy Patton, a literacy teacher at Milton Elementary who attended two years of ILD, developed and co-taught a first-grade lesson where the class learned about the colors and symbols of the Nanticoke flag. The teachers then asked each student to create their own flag using shapes, colors and images to represent themself and their families. The lesson included identity work for the students, Delaware history and community connection.

Prior to the ILD workshops, Patton wouldn’t have thought to connect a lesson specifically to the Delaware tribe.

“There are all sorts of strategies that we’ve learned that we’ve implemented all over. With the Library of Congress and primary sources, you can tap into any aspect of history,” she said.

Patton and Wager say that the workshops have also helped them implement Delaware House Bill 198, which was signed in 2021 and requires districts and charter schools to implement a Black history curriculum.

“We’re thinking about whose perspective is missing in education and looking for resources the way we now are for Latinx and Indigenous communities,” Patton said.

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Teachers at Milton Elementary School created a lesson plan using the Nanticoke Tribal flag to teach students about symbolism and local history. Pictured, first-grade student Amaya explains her own flag project to the​ class.

The language link

In April, teachers heard from Farah Steagall-Norwood, assistant chief of the Nanticoke Tribe of Delaware, and visited the Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro. In addition to viewing artifacts passed down from Elders, teachers could look through copies of Once It Has Been Spoken … It Cannot Be Unspoken, a resource for the Nanticoke language, much of which was lost during colonization.

When Wager learned that one of her fourth grade students speaks K'iche, an Indigenous Guatemalan Mayan language, she encouraged her to keep speaking it as much as possible. Having learned how hard the Nanticoke tribe has worked to preserve their language gave Wager greater appreciation for language as a cultural touchstone.

Matamoros has had similar experiences. Many of her students are placed in the immersion classroom as native Spanish speakers, but in reality Spanish is their second language, as they speak an Indigenous language at home.

“Indigenous communities have been impacted so greatly by colonization and systems of oppression that it would be ridiculous to pretend in our classrooms that they don’t exist or don’t still have impact on our kids,” she said.

Teaching teachers

Matamoras, a 2021 UD alumna who identifies as Latina, wishes these workshops had been available to her as a pre-service teacher. Even though she had classes in culturally responsive teaching, Matamoros says they were taught primarily by white professors.

“It’s great to see that there is a lot of international work being done in order to make sure that our educators are well educated about the students that we’re working with,” she said.

“It starts with awareness,” Joyce said. “We want the narrative to be more inclusive, richer and more accurate.”

He is pursuing additional funding to extend the workshops and address other underrepresented groups in Delaware curriculum and the American narrative.​

Article by Megan M.F. Everhart 

Photos courtesy of Barry Joyce and Krissy Patton 

July 03, 2024

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