Osage Nation employees pulled together during Oklahoma’s Teacher Walkout

Photo Caption: Bobby Tallchief, director of the Nation’s Emergency Management department, presents Kendra Jones and Kim Soliano with service awards for their exemplary job in assisting and teaching students during Oklahoma’s Teacher Walkout. CHALENE TOEHAY-TARTSAH/Osage News

Osage Nation (ON) responded swiftly to the state of Oklahoma teacher walkout. With weeks to develop a team and a strategy, ON employees came together under the command of Emergency Management Director, Bobby Tallchief. Tallchief began the project, stating to team members, “We will ensure these kids are safe during the time-frame they are normally in a classroom setting.” 

Emergency team members and the Human Resources Department managed site locations, recruited employee volunteers, prepared and delivered nutritious meals, and created a curriculum to provide education for the children. Sites were located in Skiatook and Pawhuska.  Skiatook City Manager, Dan Yancey, waived the fee for the utilization of the Skiatook Community Building in support of the ON and students. Kim Soliano, a local Pawhuska Public School teacher and Osage member, dedicated her time to the Pawhuska site. Director of Osage Language, Vann Bighorse, made a large classroom within the Osage Nation Language Department available. Elder Nutrition Director Sue Slinkard and staff prepared meals for both sites each day. Volunteers willingly delivered the meals. Osage Casino’s provided bottled drinking water for volunteers and students at both sites. ON Police Department monitored the parking lot during the student pick-up schedule. 

The Team developed a curriculum for the students using several ON departments, including: Education, Language, Heritage Center, Prevention, Childcare, ONPD, Fitness Center, WIC, Human Resources, Wildland Fire, IT, Communications, Wah-Zha-Zhi Health & Dental Center, Financial Assistance, Historic Preservation, Community Health Representatives, Public Health Nursing and the Wah-Zha-Zhi Early Learning Academy. Volunteers who supervised classrooms and activities came from nearly every department.

Soliano maintained reading and math through State Testing guides provided by Osage Nation Education Director Mary Wildcat. Soliano also taught supplemental math and reading through the Ace It! Program provided by Sylvan Learning Center of Owasso. 

Activities included: Culture trunks with Herman Sleeper, Language with Mandy McKinley, Ballet with Jenna Smith, Yoga, and exercise with Randy Tinker-Smith, Book-making with Baili Smith, Archery with Jaime Clark and Norris Allred, Fitness with Norris Allred, and Kick-Ball at the park with Shawn Cass.

Jennifer Holding and Matthew Thomas, Osage Nation STEAM Program employees, provided the following curriculum:

  • Entomology – the study of insects, careers in entomology, the American Burying Beetle (local, endangered, and studied by the ON Department of Natural Resources), insect habitats and facts about insects.
  • Airplanes – designing paper airplanes and what makes the planes fly, Bernoulli’s Law, pH levels and indicators – used purple cabbage (natural pH indicator) to color a piece of paper and tested the pH levels of several different liquids.
  • States of matter (solid, liquid, and gas) – differentiated between the states of matter using ice, water, and steam, Tablets – using math and engineering apps.
  • Design and testing – designed and tested three different types of paper chains to see how much weight each could hold, and then improved the design with lessons learned.

Human Resources Compensation Analyst, Anna Trumbly, taught a class on Effective Communication.  Prevention Department employees, John Leland and David Murray, addressed the bullying concern in our public schools with positive communication skits. Public Health Nurse, Jaime Clark, and Cameron Chesbro of DNR taught science and nature, including identifying certain plants, snakes, and spiders. Addie Roanhorse taught the students artistic expression through a craft titled “Zines”, allowing students to recycle old newspapers and magazines while making something new. Lou Brock, Osage Nation Congress employee, and Christopher Cote of ON Language taught music to the students. 

Presentations and guest speakers included: ONPD, ON Historic Preservation, ON Heritage Center, Wah-Zha-Zhi Health and Dental Center, Wildland Fire, Public Health Nurse, and Diabetes Department.

April 13 marked the final day of the ON Teacher Walkout Support Plan. Tallchief asked the Osage students to fill out interviews and present their reactions to the curriculum. The students commented on many aspects of the school experience from getting to do ballet for the first time to learning that communication can also be accomplished through body language and facial expressions. Wyatt Bayro, son of Susan Bayro, announced happily, “I never knew there were famous Osage ballet dancers until I learned it in this class.” One student practically left the room in tears when she read her personal comments out loud. Arabel Standing Bear bravely stood up in front of her Osage classmates, the teacher, and Director of Osage Nation Education, and read the inspirational words out loud, “I wish we could come back or I wish that the Osage tribe could create or fund our own Elementary school because I love it here and it is spectacular… I’ve met new people and I’ve learned many new things.” 

Soliano dedicated eight days of the Teacher Walkout duration to the ON support plan. When asked how her experience went, she responded, “I was privileged to love, protect, and teach these amazing students. We all had the opportunity to share in a wealth of learning experiences from archery and ballet, to STEAM and Osage culture and history. I can honestly say, I learned as much as the students.” Soliano and the students proved that learning is a recurring exchange of culture, values, facts, ideas, and respect for each other. 

“I think it was really beneficial to the Osage Nation and our children to do this. It showed that the Osage Nation is capable of stepping up and taking care of children when it is needed,” said Vann Bighorse, Osage Nation Language Department director.