History belongs to all of us. Whether profiling a place, culture, or people, a study of history provides a snapshot of the past in order to help us chart a road map for the future.
Teachers know this better than anyone, and Carol Hawkins and Nancy Fairman know it better than most.
Hawkins and Fairman have spent a collective 70-plus years teaching first through sixth grades in the . Now retired, they spend their time volunteering to bring to local fourth graders the rich history and culture of
the Duwamish Tribe that once occupied the land Renton now calls home.
They do this through something called the Coast Salish Curriculum developed by the Renton History Museum.
Five years ago, when funding for school field trips to the museum dried up, the museum came up with the idea to take the history into the classroom instead. Thanks to a , museum staff launched a two-year effort to research and develop the curriculum, purchase authentic replicas of Native American objects, train the volunteers and then convince local fourth grade teachers to give it a try. Now in its second year, volunteers brought the curriculum this past year to eight of Renton's 13 elementary schools.
The curriculum explores the material and social life, values and beliefs of the Coast Salish/Duwamish Native Americans and was created to align with the Renton School District’s social studies curriculum. The program focuses on the Native American’s dependence on three key natural resources: wood from cedar trees, which are indigenous to the area; the importance of the rivers; and salmon as a staple food source. Objects used in the curriculum include authentically woven cedar baskets, a cat tail mat, a hand-woven rope and miniature replicas of a canoe.
“We let the children touch the objects,” says Fairman, “and then ask them to guess what that object was used for, what it’s made of, and what we might currently use for the same purpose.”
The course runs over a three-day period, and on most days, the volunteers will visit up to four fourth-grade classes in each school, making for a long day.
“I’m amazed by what these ladies do,” says Dorota Rahn, Museum Education Coordinator and overseer of the project. “It’s exhausting work.”
The second day of the program, volunteers return to have the students make their own presentations on the subject, and to show a PowerPoint presentation. The third and last day, volunteers do a comprehensive presentation to all classes, going into more depth on tribal culture, traditions and beliefs.
“We even cover how our government divided the native people up and imposed rules and regulations on them,” says Hawkins. “The children get very quiet during that discussion.”
A grant from the Muckleshoot Tribe also pays for Roger Fernandes, a local Native American storyteller and artist, to visit the students for an hour-long assembly.
“He mesmerizes the children,” says Fairman. “I thought I’d heard all of his stories, but he keeps coming up with new ones.”
When asked why they devote so much time to the museum, and specifically to this project, Fairman and Hawkins have similar responses.
“I’ve always liked history,” Fairman admits. “And I enjoy the people at the museum.”
Fairman must enjoy them a lot, since she has volunteered there as a greeter, docent, oral historian and past board member for more than 16 years.
Hawkins has volunteered with the museum for more than a dozen years and says she got involved because she knew quite a few of the old-timers who worked and/or volunteered there.
“Plus, working with the kids keeps me young,” she says with a smile.
The original team that developed the Coast Salish Curriculum included a college student from Pennsylvania, named Schalon McCurry. McCurry is back in Pennsylvania now, but shared in the museum’s highest honor when the entire team was presented this past year with the Volunteer of the Year Award.
“Our volunteer educators are essential to making this program successful for kids,” says Museum Director, Liz Stewart. “Without their classroom experience and dedication, we couldn’t possibly reach so many students.”