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Draper Journal

St. John the Baptist students gain appreciation for Navajo elders

Aug 28, 2017 04:38PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Through the Adopt-a-Native-Elder program, St. John the Baptist students learned how to grind wheat with a stone. (Tina Fields/St. John the Baptist)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

This fall, incoming fourth-graders may be looking forward to their opportunity to participate in the Adopt-a-Native-Elder program, a tradition at St. John the Baptist Elementary School.

“We started working with them four years ago, when a former parent had adopted a Navajo child and introduced us to the program,” said Tina Fields, who coordinated this year’s fifth annual activity. “We decided to get involved, combining it with our social justice program as well as teaching our core curriculum.”

Since fourth-graders learn Utah history as their core curriculum, St. John decided to have the partnership reside there. However, kindergartners also are invited since they are the fourth-graders’ buddies, often reading together and doing other activities.

“We had about five or six elders from the Four Corners region tell us about their daily life, living in hogans. They said several kids often share one bedroom. They draw water from the wells. It can be really cold in the winter, but they rely upon their garden for some of their food that they preserve to eat throughout the year. It’s part of their way of life and they want to keep those traditions,” Fields said.

Fields said that once her students understand the different lifestyle, it gives them perspective.

“They can understand the differences in their own lives with running water, electricity and having their own rooms. This gives them appreciation and respect for the Native communities,” she said.

But it’s more than a lecture. Fields said the students’ favorite part of the elders’ visit is the hands-on activities.

“The Navajo demonstrated traditional dances and music, they wove every girl’s hair in a bun with yarn, they showed us how to weave blankets and rugs, some students learned to grind corn into wheat, and we learned how to count in Navajo. They showed us the jewelry they’ve made and their traditional clothing they’ve sewn. It’s more of a hands-on day instead of reading about it in a textbook. These students are getting to experience it first-hand,” she said.

But Fields said it’s more than a one-day activity. St. John students help the Native community in return.

Together fourth-graders and kindergartners gathered donations of food, notebooks, coloring books, crayons, pencils, markers, colored pencils, folder and other school supplies. Fourth-graders also held a bake sale, where money raised is used to purchase drawstring backpacks for the Navajo’s school supplies.

According to the Adopt-a-Native-Elder website, this program provides food, simple medication, clothing, fabric and yarn to help these elders continue to live on the land in their traditional lifestyle.

“As they have become elderly, it has become more difficult for them to support themselves on the land in their traditional ways,” the website states.

Fields said her students want to help them as much as they want to learn their ways.

“It’s a really cool program and each year when they come, it’s different and it gets bigger. Our kids are really excited about it and want to learn more. And the more they do, they will have a bigger appreciation of traditions of these people,” she said.