Here, Every Day is Native American Heritage Day
December 14 2021 · By Ruwanthi Halwala
Located on the southernmost edge of the Wind River Reservation, you’ll find Fremont County School District #38. A school district filled with pride and a vision of immersing its students with skills of the 21st-century in a culturally relevant way.
For Indigenous Studies and Computer Science (CS) instructor Wilfred Ferris III, showing pride in your identity and culture is part of what makes each of us an integral part of society. A proud member of the Shoshone Tribe, Wilfred reflects on the importance of his identity and why it's essential for youth, and the world, to understand the beauty of Native American Culture.
As the lead computer science instructor, Wilfred is in charge of developing the curriculum for over 400 students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade However, in building the lessons from scratch since there aren't many resources to follow that provide culturally relevant and historically accurate text. With technology rapidly shifting and students yearning for more engaging content, Wilfred looks for ways to ensure students understand the importance of their heritage and how technology can play a role in educating them about their identities.
Going back to his roots, Wilfred relies on storytelling to convey messages and the importance of certain subjects like hunting-gathering, animals, and even technology. The Wyoming Department of Education realized the importance of incorporating this rich heritage in the studies of the community it serves and, back in 2018, remarkably passed the "Indian Education For All Act," which gave school districts in Wyoming three years to adopt the new culturally relevant curriculum. Thanks to the Wind River Collaborative - which aims to bring culturally relevant computer science to elementary students across the Wind River Reservation - Wilfred was able to bring coding and computer science concepts to Arapahoe Schools.
Historically, there appears to be a cultural discord faced by Indigenous students when pursuing CS, STEM, and IT subjects. Some of the barriers Native American and Indigenous students face range from lack of access to technology to exposure to CS. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, Indigenous students have had fewer undergraduate and postgraduate enrollments over recent years. A lack of a holistic, considerate, and realistic integration of CS education into school systems for indigenous students means they risk being left behind in an era of technology first. Not only that, but also entering a workforce where they are underrepresented and face a workforce that doesn’t understand their history or culture.
Wilfred knows the importance of uplifting his students to pursue their dreams. He acknowledges the barrier and combats against it by education students about who they are, where they come from, and how the modern world can fit within it all -technology being one way forward and adapting it to educate students about the importance of culture, language, and identity. If students can be consumers, they can be creators. And that's the message Wilfred has for his students. That and to always remember the importance of where they come from to know where they are headed and become positive contributing members of society.
With pride, he welcomes students in the class and greets them in their native language - Shoshone and Arapahoe - "Good Morning" and "How are you?" Reminding them each day that with a bit of grit and perseverance, they can be whatever they want to be.
Together We Teach…Together We Learn…Together We Succeed!
Woohooniihi’ Neeyei3eibee’no Woohooniihi’ Hee’iiyeino’ Woohooniihi’ Koxkuseeno
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