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Partnership Highlight: Red Road Project

PSESD is proud to partner for a second year in a row with the Boeing Foundation to support the Red Road Project, a culturally infused STEM program led by Native American educators to engage and inspire 400 K-12 Native American students in four Pierce County school districts: Franklin Pierce, Peninsula, Sumner-Bonney-Lake and University.

Program staff, working with the Washington State MESA program, are merging STEM ideas and concepts with Native American culture to create lessons around topics like the life cycle of a salmon and traditional foods of Indigenous people. Some lessons focus on environmental issues, recycling, and other ways to protect our waterways. Staff used math and geometric shapes to do share beading and Navajo rug weaving designs; students learned about the cultural and environmental changes of the sacred Celilo Falls salmon fishing area on the Columbia River before and after the building of a hydro-electric dam; and students listened to Native storytelling connected to astronomy and the way stars are in the sky.

“Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have used science and technology to survive, to adapt, to create, and to thrive,” said Puget Sound Educational Service District NAEP Manager, Jason LaFontaine (Turtle Mountain Chippewa). “We want to show our Native youth that not only were our ancestors great at STEM and there are still lessons to learn from them, but also, we still are using STEM to survive and will continue in the future.”

There are many positive outcomes with this project, including students’ increased interest and knowledge in STEM with the understandings of the way traditional Native cultures used STEM to fish, hunt, move villages for seasons, grow food as well as make students aware of jobs in the STEM-field, both within and outside of our Indian community. Surveys show 82% of the respondents believed Native ancestors used STEM concepts to survive, with 74% seeing STEM as part of tribal jobs today — including tribal health clinics, environmental jobs like biologists, and various jobs at the tribal offices and casinos. Over the course of the year, staff saw Native students become engaged and excited to see the different ways STEM could be used and learned. From experimenting and using teamwork with robotics, to learning how traditional ways were based on STEM concepts, to learning the importance of salmon and how STEM is being used to protect their future, to seeing how tribes have jobs they can come back to and work for after their post-secondary education.
 
To learn more about PSESD’s work supporting Native students and families, contact NAEP Manager, Jason LaFontaine, at jlafontaine@psesd.org.
 

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