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South Valley Riverton Journal

Students get a sense of Native American culture through their five senses

Dec 02, 2022 03:12PM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Students pat their hands, they crinkle paper, they hiss. They are creating a soundscape for a scene in a video of a Native American woman making traditional fry bread over a fire. Students use their voices, bodies and items around the classroom to mimic the sounds of the shaping of dough, the crackle of the fire and the sizzle of hot oil.

This is what learning about Native American heritage looks like at Majestic Elementary Arts Academy. Creating a soundscape fits in with the school’s art-based teaching methods.

“That may not sound like your traditional music concepts, but they are listening, they're playing, they’re creating, and those are all really important aspects of music,” said Jennifer Purdy, program coordinator of BYU Arts in Partnership, who developed the fry bread lesson plan with the Native American Curriculum Initiative. They worked with input from teachers, artists and members of the eight sovereign tribal nations of Utah.

“We use our collective minds to come up with curriculum for students here in Utah,” Native American Curriculum Initiative Director Brenda Beyal said. “We go to the tribes, and we asked them, ‘What would you like the children of Utah to know about you and your history?’ and then we work with teaching artists and they lend their expertise in teaching the content through the arts.”

The curriculum includes a discussion about the kinds of bread each culture has, reading a book about fry bread, watching a video of fry bread being made, creating a soundscape, and listening to songs about fry bread written by Native American musicians.

“We're helping children build a context around fry bread,” Purdy said. “And through this lesson, they learn important history of the Navajo people and where fry bread originated and how it came to be. And then we bring in all of the other cultures that use or make fry bread now across the country.”

Teachers at Majestic used the curriculum in their classrooms to prepare students for a visit from Beyal, who is Navajo.

“We really try to think things out beforehand to make sure that they’ll get the most out of the activity,” Principal Marianne Johansen said.

The fry bread lesson is like many of the lessons Majestic teachers use—it is immersive and uses a variety of teaching methods, especially music and art.

“We definitely shoot for a high depth of knowledge on all subjects,” Johansen said. “How the arts help with that is they help the students create things on a higher level, so that they really get a full understanding.”

When Beyal visited Majestic Elementary in November to share her own stories and items important to her culture, students already had a framework of understanding to connect the information to. They also finally got to taste the fry bread they’d been learning so much about with Beyal’s own recipe.

Jordan School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Godfrey was impressed with how Majestic teachers used the curriculum to lay the groundwork for an impactful experience for students.

“The partnership with BYU and taking advantage of the Native American Curriculum Initiative are just two examples of the way that Majestic is focused on creating a really immersive experience for kids, making sure that their learning is a deep level and involves some real-life experiences,” he said.

Beyal hopes that these lessons and experiences change children’s perception of Native Americans.

“What I hope they come away with is a new understanding, maybe a collection of narratives of how they think about Native Americans, that we are still here, that we are not invisible, that we are continuing to move forward, that we have a legacy of resilience,” Beyal said. “We hope they continue to learn and become more curious about the true history of indigenous tribes