Massachusetts visitors, book fairies, and beaches-in-a-bag

posted on April 21, 2012

Two classes of Red Cloud Elementary students had a special treat recently, when a group of students from Xaverian High School in Westwood, Mass. came to visit.

The students were brought by former Red Cloud volunteer Steve Dacey, who worked as a science teacher in the high school from 1999-2001. Every two years, Dacey brings a group of students to the reservation for weeklong stints to help out in various capacities. At Red Cloud, the visitors worked mainly in Gretchen Lees’ fourth grade classroom, and also in Erin Diffenderfer’s second grade class.

The Xaverian students interacted with the fourth graders on several mini-projects. On the first day of the classroom visit, the students worked together in small groups reading Iktomi stories aloud. Then the visitors helped the Red Cloud students write a summary of the story, in either first-person or third-person form.

During math class, the Xaverian students tutored the elementary kids. In a few cases, the tutoring went both ways! For example, the question “How many pints are in a quart?” left some of the Xaverian students wondering. Then on the last day, all of the students – young and old – were given a math quiz with 60 multiplication problems on it, and asked to complete as many problems as possible in one minute. Some of the Red Cloud fourth graders completed more problems than some of the Xaverian students – a big confidence booster for the kiddies!

The culminating activity for the fourth grade class was having each student make a “mini-beach” by placing sand and a few seashells into a baggie. In addition to the shells that were used for this project, Lees has a selection of many other seashore organisms, as she has been gathering them for many years. Her collection includes starfish, sand dollars, a conch shell, a the skeleton of a horseshoe crab.

The activity kicked off with the students rotating around the classroom and getting time to look at each of the exotic (for South Dakota) items. They also read books together on beach environments and marine life, and looked up the answers to various questions that they were posed. For example, one of the dried starfish that they saw had two arms much shorter than the other limbs. The students had to figure out why this was, and explain the amazing ability that starfish have, wherein they can regenerate lost arms.

Thus, as Lees explained, “Since we cannot take our fourth grade students to the ocean, we bring a little bit of the ocean to them.” The students from Xaverian High School have all visited the beach during their lives, and they delighted the students with various stories of beachcombing and the sea. One of the Xaverian students told about a time when he and his grandfather were out digging for clams, and his grandfather almost stepped on the pointed tail of a horseshoe crab, because, he told us, the horseshoe crab will hold its tail straight up. He also explained to the students that the horseshoe “crab” is not related to crabs, but in fact is related to spiders.

One of Steve Dacey’s core philosophies is that once someone has an education, it cannot be taken away, or diminished in any way. He strives to increase the education of everyone he interacts with, and to lead his students to share their knowledge, their enjoyment of math, and their passion for reading with the younger students. With this in mind, Dacey and Lees collaborated on one final project, this one focused on reading. Six weeks prior to the visit, Lees had asked her students; “If you were granted one free book by the ‘book fairy’, which book would you want to receive?” Lees then emailed the book list to Dacey, and he had his students track down and purchase the selected titles. When the Xaverian students presented the requested books to the Red Cloud kids, they were tickled pink.

All involved with the visit hope that the partnership between Red Cloud Elementary School and Xaverian High School continues for many years to come!