Hiawatha students learn about culture through stories and song


HiaStud_feature Sanford School Elder Antoine Berryman (above) is a school patrol agent for the City of Minneapolis, who takes care of all the schools’ patrols. At Sanford he is joined by Kathryn Jensen and Ken Rivera. [/caption]


Longfellow resident and folksinger Larry Long is helping children understand different cultures through stories and song. Through his “Elder’s Wisdom, Children’s Song” (EWCS) program, he is working with students at Hiawatha School, who interviewed three community elders and worked with them to create songs based on their stories.

The celebration will take place at 2 p.m. on Feb. 13. It is sponsored by Community Celebration of Place in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools and West Metro Education Program. Sanford Middle School will also have an EWCS celebration at 2 p.m. on Feb. 12.

Created 30 years ago by Long, his EWCS intergenerational program is supported through his non-profit Community Celebration of Place. The program uses story and song to overcome barriers sometimes imposed by age, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and class.

Long, a Smithsonian Folkways recording artist, has come back to Hiawatha to do his EWCS program several years in a row.

“My granddaughter goes there now,” he said. “She’s in kindergarten. I live in the neighborhood. It’s my neighborhood elementary school. There’s a special connection there. I come back because I love Hiawatha School.”

Even though Long has been doing his EWCS program for 30 years, he never tires of meeting new people.

“I’m always humbled by the people who come through the door,” he said. “Elder’s Wisdom, Children’s Song helps teach resilience. The elders share some tough stories. It reinforces life can be tough sometimes, but you can persevere and learn from your mistakes.”

The EWCS program has definitely changed since Long first started doing it.

“The entire process has been developed with the communities,” he said. “I’ve written close to 1,000 songs and worked in 300 to 400 schools. I started out working in rural communities and then urban and suburban communities. The process gets better and better and more defined. Each school adds another dimension to tweak the program.”

Young people can learn many things from the elders.

“They learn resilience and that they’re not alone,” said Long. “They learn they’re part of the community. It takes a village to raise a child. One thing about Hiawatha that’s really wonderful is all these elders come and read to the children. The school is very intergenerational.”

The EWCS program helps communities by shining light on people’s stories who rarely get heard.

“It builds bridges between the many cultures of communities we live in,” said Long. “It helps celebrate untold stories or stories that are rarely heard. It shines the light on individuals in the community who we do not shine light on. The people we honor are not in the news. They are committed to mentoring and the generation coming up.”

The three elders working with students are Antoine Berryman, Kathryn Jensen, and Ken Rivera. Berryman is a school patrol agent for the City of Minneapolis, who takes care of all the schools’ patrols. Jensen is the grandmother of two students who went to Hiawatha. Rivera is a bilingual education assistant at Hiawatha, who is an artist.

Rivera decided to be an elder because he likes to do more than just work in the classroom.

“I always try to do extra activities,” he said. “I like being a coach. I tutor after school. I like doing things outside of the classroom. I enjoy the one-on-one work with the kids.”

Since the word elder in EWCS is a title earned by being a good community citizen who cares for others, Rivera is thrilled to be chosen as an elder.

“I felt honored and excited,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were going to do. They’re going to record the song for me. I never had a song written about me.”

Rivera feels students can learn many things from his story.

“One thing they can learn is having a positive outlook on your life no matter what happens,” he said. “There are going to be tough times, but you need to find something to smile about. Right after a bad day, a good day is always right around the corner. Life can challenge us, but we can learn really good lessons from challenging situations.”

Participating in EWCS is important to Rivera because he thinks students need good role models.

“There’s a lot of negativity,” he said. “A way to change that is having positive programs to show kids there are positive role models.”

Jan Bauer, music teacher at Hiawatha, helps the students get the elders’ songs all polished up with actions.

“It helps us as performers to tell the story,” she said. “It helps the listeners to see the stories as well as hear it.”

Bauer feels the EWCS program is important to Hiawatha because it’s literacy-based.

“Children learn to write music, how to ask questions, and to take all the information about a person’s life to make verses and lines and fit it into rhythms,” she said. “All that stuff is literacy-based.”

She hopes students learn that people are people.

“They don’t have to be afraid because someone dresses or speaks differently,” said Bauer. “We have a lot of history in our community as well as our nation that it’s important to know. History comes alive through our elders’ stories more than what you read in a book.”

Building cultural literacy, Long feels the EWCS program just keeps on getting better and better.

“It builds greater cultural understanding of the community we live in and inspires people to make a place at the table for newcomers,” he said. “People really see the joy of having many cultures in one neighborhood. I hope it inspires people to reach out to other people in the community who may come from different cultures.”

For more information, visit: www.communitycelebration.org


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