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Chuck Carney
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812-856-8027

Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2008

Teaching without distractions

Former IU students teaching on the Navajo Reservation come to share experiences and to recruit

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 14, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Marisa Churchill and Mark Gathmann, graduates from the Indiana University School of Education, will speak about their experiences as faculty members at a middle school on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Pinon, Ariz., during a 5 p.m. presentation on Monday (March 17) in the Wright Education Building Auditorium.

Marisa Churchill

Churchill with Pinon students.

Churchill and Gathmann will share their stories in a presentation titled "Teaching and Living on the Navajo Reservation: IU Graduates Share Challenges, Rewards and Opportunities." Appearing with them will be Rich Grant, the principal of Pinon Middle School, who will offer perspective from his position on important issues in American Indian Education. The presentation is free and open to the public.

The group also will spend Tuesday (March 18) at the School of Education interviewing candidates who are interested in doing their student teaching at Pinon or joining the faculty permanently.

The Navajo teaching program is a part of the award-winning Cultural Immersion Projects program at the IU School of Education. The American Indian Reservation Project sends student teachers to Navajo Reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah for 16 to 17 weeks, teaching in Indian-controlled public or Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools. Pre-service teachers from Indiana University and a selected number of students from across the country have participated in the program for more than 35 years. The Cultural Immersion Projects also send students to teach in 13 foreign countries in Asia, Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Africa. A new project also will send students to teach in Chicago public schools.

"They're not just going in and teaching, then returning to their living quarters," director of the Cultural Immersion Projects Laura Stachowski said of the Navajo Reservation project. "They're forging friendships with Navajo people in the community, and those friendships become very deep and meaningful to them."

Churchill said those relationships led her to stay on as a faculty member once her student-teaching assignment at Pinon concluded. "The thing I love most about being on the reservation is the students," she said. "They teach you so much about their culture and living out on the reservation. Their perspective on life is a lot different."

The Cultural Immersion Projects are designed not just to expose students to the culture, but to allow the pre-service teachers to understand a culture different from their own. Students live among the families and adapt to the cultural values.

"I just wanted to get a different perspective on life, kind of see what it was like to live here. It's like a foreign country inside our own country," said Churchill, a native of suburban Chicago, who explained that on the reservation, many students live 40 miles apart from each other. "I'm used to lots of activity and traffic and shopping malls everywhere."

While the lack of outside activity allows Churchill to teach without distraction for the most part, there are other issues. For example, English is a second language for many of her students. That presents Churchill, a seventh grade language arts and eighth grade honors literature teacher, with a particular challenge. "They speak English at school and Navajo at home, and it's hard for them to pick up all the elements of grammar that they should probably have by now," she said.

The Cultural Immersion Projects earned the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education "Best Practice in International and Global Teacher Education Award in 2001. Goldman Sachs made it a co-recipient of the "Best in International Education Award" in 2005. More about the program is available at http://site.educ.indiana.edu/strongCulturalImmersionProjectsstrong/tabid/4184/Default.aspx.

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Website at http://www.education.indiana.edu. Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.

Churchill, who is from Grayslake, Illinois, just outside Chicago, says she had to adjust to the different atmosphere of teaching on the Navajo reservation:

"I'm used to lots of activity and traffic and shopping malls everywhere, and I just wanted to get a different perspective on life, kind of see what it was like, to live in this. It's like a foreign country inside our own country. I wanted to see what the culture was like and what it was like to live without all of those distractions."

A great challenge for Churchill, who teaches language arts and literature, is working with students who speak their native tongue away from the school:

"So they speak English at school and Navajo at home, and it's hard for them to pick up all the elements of grammar that they should probably have by now, so I have to spend a lot of time going back over those things."

Churchill says her classroom experience is why she decided to stay on as a permanent teacher:

"The thing I love most about being on the reservation is the students. They're so fun, and they love coming and hanging out and learning, and they're just fun to talk to. They teach you so much about their culture and living out on the reservation, and just their perspective on life is a lot different."

Stachowski (Stack-ow-ski) says IU student teachers don't just go to the schools on the reservations:

"While they're out there as student teachers, they're forging friendships with Navajo people in the community, and those friendships become very deep and meaningful to them. Whether it's families that invite them over to participate in a ceremony or to help with the care of their livestock or herd sheep, you know things like that; they get to know the people in the community, the people who work at the school and the cafeteria and the dorm, which are all a part of their life while they're out there, and I think for many of them, when the student teaching semester is over, they're not ready for that to be the end of the relationship with these folks, and they stay. They stay not only at Pinon, but at many of our other schools across the reservation, these young graduates of IU have stayed on, and at Pinon in particular there are a number of them now."

The program sending IU student teachers to the reservations started with an idea more than 35 years ago, Stachowski says:

"In the early 1970s here, my predecessor, Jim Mahan, who still lives in Bloomington, started the Cultural Immersion Projects, and the American Indian Reservation Project was first. I think it was about 1972. He had connections with John Henderson, who is a Navajo man on the reservation who still comes every year for our workshop in April to participate as a consultant, and those two put their heads together, and they thought you know, 'What an opportunity for people from the east to go to an American Indian community and really immerse themselves in the culture through a student teaching experience.' So that started it, and a couple years after that, Jim Mahan developed the Overseas Project which has become extremely popular and successful, and after that Urban, Rural and Latino Projects."

For more information, contact Chuck Carney at 812-856-8027 or ccarney@indiana.edu.