By Supporting Native Language Revitalization, A Student Discovers a Love for Teaching

posted May 9, 2014

After five years of intensive development, trials and evaluation by Lakota elders, linguists, local artists and teachers, Red Cloud’s Lakota Language Program is now providing culturally responsive language instruction to all students, from kindergarten through high school.

And today, the project is gaining crucial insight from the one of its more important stakeholders: a student.

It all started when Bianca Spotted Thunder, a senior this year, started working with classmate Kristian Big Crow on his business plan for a Lakota Language App in Red Cloud’s entrepreneurship class.

As Kristian planned out the future of his digital translation smartphone application, Bianca discovered a new way to put her years of Lakota language classes to use

Watching that work unfold, Principal Robin Johnson suggested Bianca take her love of the language to the Lakota Language Project’s on-site coordinator, Melissa Strickland and serve as a work study student.

“I’ve always thought that having a student that I can work with everyday would be immeasurably helpful,” says Melissa. “The student’s perspective is hugely important.”

“With Bianca’s feedback—outside of the classroom and without that bias—she is able to help the entire LLP team make the curriculum and materials better for her fellow students. Reviewing tests and materials without having to worry about a grade provides our team with an insider’s view of not only what is difficult or not making sense, but also what is working. As an evaluation tool it’s essential.”

For Bianca, it’s an opportunity to support the preservation of her heritage language.

“You know, there are a lot of other tribes who have lost the language,” she says. “So I think it’s important to preserve ours.”

“I know he wants people to know Lakȟóta so that they can understand him during the ceremonies,” says Bianca. “And because the spirits don’t speak english—they speak Lakȟóta—my father also has to translate other people’s prayers into Lakȟóta. Language loss really puts a lot of pressure on him. ”

For Bianca and her family, the use and understanding of Lakȟóta relates directly to their cultural identity. Her father, a wičháša wakȟáŋ or medicine man, uses the language during sacred ceremonies.

The solution, Bianca believes, lies in initiatives like Red Cloud’s Lakota Language Program. She’s been filling her semester-long work study project by helping Melissa and the LLP team correct and refine materials like flashcards and online multimedia lessons, and translating and developing Lakȟóta signage for The Heritage Center—Red Cloud’s renowned Native art gallery and gift shop.

While she recognizes the immense value in supporting language revitalization efforts in an academic setting, Bianca believes she’s also developed real, transferable skills that will shape her future.

“I’ve been a student for a long time, but now with my work study, I’m seeing what it’s like from a teacher’s perspective,” says Bianca. “And it has helped me to understand what a student needs to really learn a language, or really any subject.”

Bianca had originally planned to attend cosmetology school this fall, however, after her time as a work study student, she’s decided to postpone those plans to explore a different path.

“After doing this work study—seeing what goes into developing a curriculum and teaching—I’ve started thinking about going to school to be a teacher,” says Bianca. “So, I’ve decided to take some classes at Oglala Lakota College or Chadron State College first.”

“I can really appreciate the hard work that goes into a quality education. I’ve seen how the way you teach really matters, and how you need to do your best as a teacher to adapt your methods to your students, observing how they learn as you go.”

While the long hours and hard work of teaching might dissuade some people, Bianca says that she likes helping people and thinks that, as an educator, she would be able to connect with people and inspire them in the way she has been inspired at Red Cloud.

“It’s been great to have Bianca here,” says Melissa. “Working with her has made me think that we could only benefit by having more students like her, perhaps even a cohort of students in the future to support the continued betterment of the curriculum for themselves, their classmates and future generations.”

Learn More About the Lakota Language Program at Red Cloud

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