In the beginning, students at Simons Valley Elementary were attempting to answer two essential questions:
To address these questions, students engaged in research looking at those cultures arriving in Canada during significant periods of Canadian immigration. Focusing on why cultures left their homeland, what they /faced in Canada, and what changes occured to each culture have led the students to recognize that great benefits can arise from cultural interaction. Conversely, however, they have also come to know that assumptions, misconceptions and prejudice have also been part of such interaction.
Wanting the students to go beyond an intellectual exercise, we tried to facilitate a meeting of our students with those from another culture: ideally a culture with a strong, singular background. Through the use of email Simons Valley established communication with Wingate High School in Ft. Wingate, New Mexico. Wingate High School is the largest native boarding school in the state, housing approximately 700 students with the Navajo nation comprising the majority. Other nations represented include the Lakota, Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, Laguna, White Mountain Apache, San Carlos Apache, Northern Cheyenne, ToHono Oodham, and Havasupai.
Recognizing that a culture's symbolism reflects their values and beliefs, we asked the students in New Mexico to prepare and send digital representations of what are the traditional symbols of the Navajo culture. We also asked those students to draft an explanation of their symbols' meanings. Our intent is to share the representations with our students, but then withhold the explanations. This way, our students can engage in a practical (as best as possible) "first meeting" of a new culture. After our students have developed their own interpretations of the Navajo symbols, we will then share the provided explanations. Ideally we will discover instances of assumption and misconception which will allow us to, more concretely, understand our own biases. When we can recognize that, we are on the road to improving ourselves as citizens of the world.
To put a
further twist on the project, we have asked the students at Fort Wingate
to provide a new set of symbols, but this time to create representations
of what they believe are the symbols of their culture today. Similar
to the previous exercise, the students will also provide an explanation
of the modern symbols. Students at Simons Valley will, once more, attempt
to interpret these symbols with an eye towards uncovering what have
been the ramafications of other cultures having met the Navajo.
We hope you find the students' work to be as interesting and engaging as they did.