Supporting Justice in Education: Magis Volunteer Teachers Promote Excellence at Red Cloud

posted March 22, 2017

Red Cloud volunteer Katie Taylor has always had a passion for education. Once she realized that she wanted to teach, while studying history as an undergraduate at Notre Dame, she began searching for opportunities that would give her the chance to serve students and a community where needs are urgent and education is never taken for granted. Her search led her to Creighton University’s Magis Catholic Teachers Corps, which partners with Red Cloud to bring talented young volunteer teachers to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Today, as a Magis volunteer, Katie is teaching American history and government to Red Cloud High School students—an experience she says has deepened her commitment to serving as an educator.

“When I started looking for graduate programs in education, I wanted something that would help me understand different educational models from the one I grew up in—to give me a new perspective on the field and the role I can play in it,” said Katie. “By coming to Red Cloud through the Magis program, I’m learning and exploring new methods, and constantly evaluating how they work for my students. My goal is really to make them feel empowered by what they learn in the classroom. And every single day, they make me a better, more confident teacher.”

Red Cloud’s partnership with the Magis program began over a decade ago, and over the years, more than 20 Magis volunteers have served on campus as core members of the teaching staff. Members like Katie commit to teaching and living in community at Red Cloud for two years while completing a rigorous master’s degree program in education, educational leadership and administration, or school counseling. They gain practical, real-world classroom experience that prepares them for careers as leaders in Jesuit education.  

Maka Clifford '05, volunteer coordinatorVolunteer coordinator Maka Clifford ‘05 understands the critical value of Red Cloud’s partnership with Magis. He has intersected with Magis volunteers in a variety of ways: as a teacher he worked as a colleague alongside several Magis participants, and in his current coordinator role, he supervises and supports their work. He has seen first-hand how much skill, talent, and commitment Magis volunteers bring to Red Cloud classrooms.  

“One of the primary goals of Red Cloud’s volunteer program is supporting justice in education. And by that we mean ensuring that all students, but particularly Native students and other students of color, have access to highly-trained, effective teachers,” said Maka.

“Magis volunteers play an enormously important role in fulfilling that mission. They’ve all made a decision to devote their careers to education and, through their graduate work at Creighton, they are constantly advancing their skills. They truly expand educational opportunities here—and recognize the amazing potential in all their students.”

Since arriving on campus last August, Katie says her skill in the classroom has evolved significantly, thanks to her Creighton coursework and the support of her fellow teachers. Last semester, while taking an advanced methods course, she had the chance to reflect often with her professors and with Magis volunteers teaching in other schools across the Midwest on which methods would help connect with her own students and make history come alive for them.  

This semester she applied that knowledge and developed an innovative lesson on what she calls the “Western wars”—what dominant history refers to as the “Indian wars”—using the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Because the book tells the story of her students’ own people and culture, Katie designed the lesson in a way that empowered them to teach that story to the next generation.

“I really wanted them to take on this story and tell it in their own voices. It’s a painful and difficult story, and I felt like me explaining it to them wasn’t the right way to teach it. So, after reaching a specific chapter, we broke into small groups and each group was responsible for developing their own presentation about it to deliver in the middle and elementary schools here at Red Cloud,” said Katie.

“Many of them were nervous and didn’t want to present. But they shared the story in such a powerful way that I never could. And when the lesson was completed, they all started asking me if I was coming back next year—and I knew it had resonated with them.”

For some Magis volunteers, the experience of serving at Red Cloud is powerful enough to lead them to stay beyond their initial two year-commitment. Some, like Red Cloud High School’s current principal Clare Huerter, choose to build their careers at Red Cloud and grow deeper roots in the community. Clare taught English during her time as a Magis volunteer and immediately became immersed in the work of supporting her talented students. Being a part of the program, she explains, gave her both the knowledge and confidence she needed to become an effective leader in the classroom.

“At first it was so tough to be teaching full-time and spending nights and weekends on graduate work—but Magis gives its members access to so many resources and such amazing support, and my teaching just got better and better,” said Clare. “Not only did I thrive in the classroom, but I was also able to help other volunteers when they were struggling with classroom management or lesson planning. Because Magis gave us such a strong foundation in education, I was able to step into a leadership role in the classroom and among other volunteers as well.”

Clare completed the Magis track in educational leadership and administration while interning with Red Cloud’s high school principal. And when an assistant principal position opened, her supervisors at Red Cloud encouraged her to apply. Last year she took on the role of Dean of Students—and she credits Magis for preparing her for the challenge. Today, as principal, she has a whole new appreciation for what Magis teachers bring to Red Cloud.

“By using best practices and engaging really wonderful, compassionate professors, Magis not only trains you to be a strong teacher but it also reaffirms your commitment to being an educator,” said Clare.

“Now, as a principal supporting the work of Magis teachers, I can see the difference that training makes. Our three current Magis volunteers are some of our best teachers—they are just thriving in the classroom and also are very much a part of this community. I always see them at sports games and other events, connecting with their students,” she continued. “They have such a sense of responsibility and commitment to this place. Our staff is definitely stronger because they are here.”

Photos © Red Cloud Indian School


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