Last Thursday, a group of twelve students gathered at the Adult Education Center on Monroe to make elderberry flutes in a special workshop funded by the IEL Equity Committee. The elderberry project was part of an equity mini-grant that was intended to promote diversity awareness at the IEL by:
- Offering students a greater understanding of local tribal history and cultural practices.
- Drawing a tangible connection between the cultural history of this region and the local ecosystem.
- Demonstrating to students that math, science, and cultural awareness have inter-connected and real-world applications.
- Providing students with a tangible end-product (the elderberry flute), thereby increasing the sense of connection to diverse cultures and practices.
- Increasing diverse perspectives within the curriculum.
- Improving the student climate at the IEL by creating a sense of cooperation and shared purpose.
The mini-grant provided funding for Tim Corcoran, co-founder of Twin Eagles Wilderness School, to offer technical instruction for the flute making workshop. He gave the students detailed knowledge regarding the practical skills of the project, along with his personal support for the individual learning process. As students encountered challenges, Tim demontrated a natural ability to balance instruction with encouragement.
Two IEL instructors also participated in the workshop and added a variety of learning perspectives to the project. Carole Parks spoke to the students regarding the science of sound, while Barry Moses spoke about the history of flute making within the Salish speaking tribes of Eastern Washington.
The flute making project had a positive impact on academic achievement.
Several of our GED students got a practical, hands-on lesson regarding measurment and the division of fractions as they learned about the proper placement of the flute holes. They also practiced skills related to geometry as they learned to fashion the wood in the correct angle to produce sound.
In addition to learning about tribal cultures in Washington State, many students made a deeper connection to their own cultures.
One participant recently finished ESL and enrolled in the reading program. She was born in Vietnam, and as she worked on this project, she spoke about the parallels between Native American flutes and the bamboo flutes of her birthplace. Another participant is enrolled with a tribe in the eastern portion of North America. She spoke of deepening her connection to her ancestral roots and of wanting to teach her own children how to make elderberry flutes.
This student gave permission to post his picture online.
As he completed his flute, he made an inscription in the Tagalog language: "Memories to the future."
This project increased cultural awareness and also created a greater sense of community at the IEL. Some expressions of community were small. For example, I saw one student smile for the first time since he enrolled several quarters ago. Others got to experience that magical moment when a dead stick of wood suddenly produced music.
As the workshop ended, one student said, "Thank you SO much for doing this. I have never done something like this, not even during grade school."
As a follow-up exercise, some of the students wrote essays regarding their experience at the workshop. One student wrote: "At the end of the project, I found myself wanting to create more native and cultural projects. It was a very good experience for me to see how other cultures worked through problems and overcame making a flute with a lot less supplies than I had. It amazes me..."