A group of fifth-grade students in Joliet Public Schools District 86 recently talked to a member of the Nez Perce tribal nation in Idaho.
The Nez Perce tribe is a federally recognized tribe, headquartered in Lapwai, Idaho, according to nezperce.org. The tribe has more than 3,500 enrolled citizens and the Nez Perce reservation spans about 770,000 acres, according to nezperce.org.
This was something the students could really relate to, especially since many of our students are children of immigrants.”— Maida Cornelio-Sauseda, fifth-grade teacher, A.O. Marshall Elementary School, Joliet
All District 86 fifth graders learn about the Nez Perce tribe in their Wit and Wisdom English Language Arts unit. The students also read the book “Thunder Rolling in the Mountains” by Scott O’Dell and Elizabeth Hall, which tells the history of the tribe.
But the students in Maida Cornelio-Sauseda’s classroom at A.O. Marshall Elementary School in Joliet took their studies one step further. They also spent an hour on Zoom with Joyce McFarland, education manager for the Nez Perce tribal nation in Idaho.
During the presentation, students learned more about the tribal nation, including its history. They also saw photos of the Nimiipuu, which means “the people,” in their traditional homelands, which are the present-day states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
Cornelio-Sauseda said the students found it interesting that this tribe living in the U.S. “far before anyone else” still is around today.
They were engaged and asked thoughtful questions, Cornelio-Sauseda said.
“This was something the students could really relate to, especially since many of our students are children of immigrants,” Cornelio-Sauseda said.
The students now want to learn more about Native American cuisine, especially since some foods in the Nez Perce culture are “infused with Latin American cuisine,” such as fry bread and tacos, Cornelio-Sauseda said.
“I was online looking to see if I could find a restaurant or caterer to bring in samples,” Cornelio-Sauseda said. “There really isn’t anyone who does that in Joliet or in Chicago. We did find recipes they could make at home if they chose to.”
Emilia Herrera, A.O. Marshall principal who is new to District 86, said that although the Wit and Wisdom study unit is meant to be inclusive, she was impressed that the curriculum was so diverse.
Herrera also said she is thankful that Laura Jackson, an English Language Arts Instructional coach for District 86, connected the school with McFarland.
“I was impressed with our ability to be able to stretch that far, reach that far, and to be able to connect with somebody on that level,” Herrera said. “I’m hopeful that this is giving the students something to really think about in terms of how to connect with other cultures and, more importantly, how to grow as an individual, especially in being able to connect with the broader world around them.”
District 86 Superintendent Theresa Rouse said she also is thankful that students had the experience.
“I had the pleasure to join the Zoom call and see the students’ eyes light up when Ms. McFarland shared details about the Nez Perce tribe,” Rouse said in a news release from District 86. “Thank you to our staff members for arranging this added and impactful component to the curriculum.”