Bridgewater State University Brings Literacy Workshop to Red Cloud

posted on August 23, 2013

Before the new school year kicked off any instruction, homework or tests, the staff at Red Cloud Indian School gathered early one morning in the high school’s library to address one of the key components of education: literacy.

Every year teachers meet for their annual professional development prior to the first day of school. This year, building on a blossoming partnership with the Boston area’s Bridgewater State University, teachers came together to explore their shared goals around building literacy standards and accelerating Red Cloud forward.

“A lot of the teachers are already addressing many of the literacy needs in the classroom,” said Jenn Manak, Assistant Professor of Elementary Education at Bridgewater State . “Part of today was seeing how those strategies link up with newly implemented Common Core State Standards.”

The Common Core State Standards Initiative sets national goals for aligning diverse curricula through the principles of standards-based education reform. As opposed to highly individualized, outcome-based standards, which it has replaced, the Common Core is a guide for curriculum, assessment and professional development based on concrete standards of what a student should know.

"Today has been one of the best in-service presentations I’ve been to in 26 years of teaching.”

Manak and Associate Professor of English John Kucich traveled nearly 2,000 miles from Bridgewater’s campus just south of Boston, Massachusetts to help foster a conversation on achieving higher levels of literacy at Red Cloud.

Kucich noted that while many programs exist to help implement the standards, they tend to be pre-scripted and don’t prioritize teacher engagement or the needs of unique schools like Red Cloud. And that is where the support of Bridgewater State comes in.

“The people who know Red Cloud best are the teachers—and so they’re the ones who need the time to get together and share ideas. If we can help foster that conversation and move it forward, and then get out of the way as the conversation takes place, then we’ve done our job. We don’t know what it’s like to teach in a Lakota school—it’s a different context—but it’s also nice to see the ways in which it’s similar, and how we can assist.”

For many teachers, the day was enlightening. Kris House, a middle school math teacher who has worked at Red Cloud for the last fourteen years, raised her hand to speak during a final round of comments. “Today has been one of the best in-service presentations I’ve been to in 26 years of teaching,” said House. “I think that the folks from Bridgewater have shown us that while it can be scary to transition to new literacy standards, you just take little steps and work together.”

The day’s workshop left House with an understanding that, with Common Core Standards, literacy has a place, even in her math curriculum. Other teachers shared her realization of the Common Core’s central tenet: all subjects are connected.

“I feel more prepared,” said House. “I have a better understanding of my resources and know we have folks like John and Jenn from Bridgewater on our side.”

And Moria Peckskamp, Red Cloud’s director of curriculum, couldn’t be more excited.

“It feels like so many pieces are coming together!” said Peckskamp, who arranged the day’s workshops. “As staff we are getting a picture of where we want to go and how we are going to get there. We’re really looking at literacy, the Common Core, and how to vertically align with Bridgewater’s help. These are all huge endeavors, and all three are coming together right here.”

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