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Settler’s Point Elementary teacher creates after-school Culture Club

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The Duncan family does hoop dancing for Settler's Point studentsOur students, families and staff come from all various walks of life. Our unique stories and backgrounds are what makes our GPS family so special. When our experiences are woven together, we grow stronger as a community. We are able to celebrate our differences and connect in ways that we haven’t before.

“People want to share their cultures. We just have to listen,” said Lisa Johnson, a fourth grade teacher at Settler’s Point Elementary.

Johnson started a Culture Club on campus this year, launching it in September with 15 members. The club for fifth and sixth grade students helps them learn about the richness of cultural values, customs and traditions within their community and across the country. Johnson was inspired to start the club after participating in a program funded by National Geographic, where she traveled to Colorado and learned about the Ute Indian Tribe. One of the tribal members encouraged Johnson and fellow attendees to go back into their communities and learn more about the people there.

“That’s kind of where it started. We have such a rich, diverse culture here at Settler’s Point that we’ve been able to draw off of our own population,” she said.

As part of the Culture Club, students watch videos, learn music and songs, play traditional games, eat new foods, explore the arts and hear from guest speakers about different traditions and customs. Guest speakers included the school’s cafeteria manager, building manager, a paraprofessional specialist, an art teacher and a few parents of students, who all came and openly shared their stories with club members. 

“What’s really interesting is when we learn about someone’s culture who is in the Culture Club, the students are so proud and excited about it,” Johnson said.

The Settler's Point Elementary Culture Club posed with the Duncan family for a group photo.In November, Tony and Violet Duncan were among the guest speakers for Native American Heritage Month. Their children are part of the Culture Club at Settler’s Point. Tony comes from the San Carlos Apache tribe, one of the 22 federally-recognized tribes in Arizona. He shared some of his family’s history with the students.

“My father’s first language was Apache. He didn’t learn English until maybe when he was in the third grade or so. A lot of the different songs and stories that we share are passed down to each family member. My dad is the one who taught me a lot of our traditional songs and different types of dances, and now I’m teaching all of my children,” he said.

Violet grew up in Canada as part of the Plains Cree nation. She spoke to the students about some of the beadwork, quill work and clothing that are part of traditional Native American regalia. She explained the importance of colors and designs, and how they can represent something personal, family-related, or showcase where the person is from.

“I wear a lot of floral or flowers, because the further north you go the more flowers you’ll see. There are wildflowers everywhere,” she said.

Violet is also an author, writing books for children and young adults. She uses inspiration from her family to help explain the history and culture of Native American people. 

“When we were new parents, we wanted to make sure that we read all of the good stuff, but all of the good stuff didn’t have pictures or families that looked like us,” she said.

She’s gone on to write four books with more on the way. Tony is also very accomplished. He is a six-time world champion hoop dancer. Hoop dancing is a tradition that is done by Native American tribes and nations, celebrating how we are all connected in the circle of life. Tony passed on the tradition of hoop dancing to his kids, which they got to perform for their classmates.

Four of Violet Duncan's book sit side-by-side on a table at Settler's Point Elementary.“When we dance, we don’t just dance for ourselves. We dance for those who are sick, so they’ll start to feel good. We dance for the butterflies. We dance for the trees. We dance for everyone,” Violet said.

In addition to the hoop dancing performance, the club members also got to eat traditional fry bread. Food is one of the many ways that you can connect with a different culture. For Hispanic Heritage Month, students ate arepas from Venezuela, candy from Mexico and fresh flour tortillas. In December, they’ll get to have a traditional English tea with one of their teachers. Johnson believes the club has provided an exciting opportunity for students to grow, learn and explore. While they are doing so, they are also able to share the information that they are learning with their loved ones and friends.

“When I take students to Parent Pickup after the meetings, they are so excited and the parents tell me how much their kid loves this,” Johnson said.

The Culture Club recently won a grant from Arizona State University and the Extra Yard Teachers program for $1,000 to help support additional educational opportunities for students. Despite it still being fairly new, Johnson believes the club’s early success should encourage other schools to create a similar club on their campus for students. 

“It might look different, but it’s worth looking into. What might your demographics look like in your own community,” she said, “At Settler’s Point, we have such a rich history, but had we not started the Culture Club we wouldn’t  have known how much we can draw from it.”

To learn more about Settler’s Point Elementary, schedule a school tour or enroll today!

Story and Photos by Kailey Latham