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At the Corner of Teaching, Learning, Service and Culture

Reagan Stone is an education major who decided to take a different approach to the student teaching experience. Unlike many of her peers, who will student teach in Ohio, Reagan is venturing farther away from home to a place where the culture is vastly different. She will spend the entire 16 weeks student teaching in the Navajo Nation at a school in the Four Corners Region of northeastern Arizona.

Reagan’s student teaching experience is part of Capital’s Intercultural Student Teaching (IST) program, which allows students to complete the requirement in their choice of 17 countries outside the United States, or in this case, Navajo Nation. Dr. Olga Shonia, associate professor of education, started the program in 2011 and modeled it after Indiana University Global Gateway for Teachers. Indiana University is a school that also partners with Capital for placements and to date, nearly 70 students have participated. Reagan is the first to teach in the Four Corners Region.

“Participation in the IST program is yet another way to make student teachers more globally aware. It furthers their understanding of the students who may look and sound different, increases empathy through the perspective-taking exercise of cultural immersion and enhances their appreciation for other cultures.”
– Dr. Olga Shonia, associate professor of education

Shonia is understandably passionate about the IST program. Last year as part of her sabbatical, she spent two weeks in the Navajo Nation where she visited the schools and met with the professionals who will work with and guide student teachers from Capital.

Capital University is the only institution in Central Ohio to offer the IST program. “Capital places high emphasis on experiential learning, and this program is a big part of that,” Shonia said. “The students learn about the culture through living in it, immersing meaningfully in local schools and communities.” She was glad when Reagan expressed interest in the Navajo Nation. “Reagan will be a Social Studies teacher with firsthand experience and an enhanced appreciation of the Native American culture. The cultural and professional insights gained during this intercultural experience will contribute to the achievement of excellence at many levels in her career as a professional educator,” she added. Shonia anticipates that Reagan will become an informal ambassador for the Navajo portion of the program, which should attract even more students to participate.

The Navajo Experience

This semester Reagan is teaching eighth-grade Social Studies at the Piñon Accelerated Middle School in Piñon, Arizona. It’s a boarding school, so she lives in the dorm with three other student teachers from Indiana, as well as the middle school and high school girls who attend the school Monday through Friday.

So far there have been many opportunities to share cultural experiences. Reagan and the other student teachers were recently asked to lead a Zumba class for the high school boys. “After everyone got the hang of it, we switched to powwow music, and the boys did the teaching,” she said. “It was fun to see them doing it and loving it.”

Navajo Reservation

Unfortunately, not every encounter is that upbeat, and Reagan is aware of the poverty on the reservation. “My heart has been broken so many times already for some of my students when they share their stories,” she said.

Every day after school Reagan spends a couple of hours tutoring students. Then she helps supervise dinner and occasionally oversees recreational activities in the dorm. In addition, she must complete a community service project, which is an opportunity to help and learn from someone outside the dorm or school. This makes it possible for student teachers to come in contact with Navajos outside the confines of their teaching responsibilities.

Learning through service is an important component of the program, primarily because it helps prepare the student teachers for the many perspectives they will encounter in schools today. The service learning project allows them to experience firsthand the meaning behind local values and customs resulting in new learning and insights.

To prepare for the student teaching experience, Capital students must take a class and participate in a workshop that Shonia teaches. In Reagan’s case, however, the Navajo preparatory phase is different, and it is currently only offered through Indiana University as a graduate-level class. Last year she was able to participate via Skype as well as visit IU for a weekend of teambuilding activities and meetings with the Navajo educators.

After just a few weeks on the reservation, Reagan already has numerous stories to share. But most of all, she now knows what it’s like to be a minority, and she is admittedly more empathetic about what other people are going through.

“I believe the student teachers will forever be transformed by this experience, both as professionals and as human beings. By actively engaging in the community, they will learn to view the world through the perspective of others,” Shonia said. “They will know what it’s like to be placed in the shoes of someone whose value system is very different from their own, which in turn will enhance their appreciation for diverse viewpoints as they become socially responsible educators ready to affect change.”