Fife Indian Education Coordinator Shares Heritage & Community
Martha Sherman is the Coordinator of Indian Education in Fife, but has worked in Native Education for more than 40 years. She serves children and families, especially students starting in Kindergarten and beyond high school, and is a member of the Hupa Valley Tribe.
Tell us about your job!
I wear many different hats! I work with all native students, I am a resource to the staff and to the community and other native educators. We keep an eye on Native students’ attendance and academics, and we can help place them into programs that fit their needs. And I can tell you all districts and students in the districts are different. Sometimes students might need to be in an after-school program, sometimes they need to catch up on a specific credit. We help them.
I also present to classrooms about Native American culture and lots of things, like potlatches and salmon — the Pacific Northwest in general.
I also have an after-school native circle once per week where we do a lot of arts and craft. Today, they have a choice of making a basket, you know, like a coil basket, or we have made wooden cut-outs for the kids to make a dolls. Most of the kids that come to those kinds of things are second grade to middle school age.
I still keep in contact with some of the kids I helped through school, they are in graduate and undergraduate programs.
I really enjoy what I do.
How did you start?
I am going on 43 years now. I started when I was 16. I left the high school and walked to elementary school to tutor Native American kids in math and reading after school.
Tutoring was how my career continued, too. I went from school to school, sometimes three or four schools per day working with kids. Now it’s become more. We are working more with the districts, and families and as always, students.
How does your school community incorporate Native American culture into your classroom?
I know we have been really active with the Since Time Immemorial [STI] curriculum, we also visit Pioneer Farms and work with the Nisqually tribe on the salmon release. I work with mostly the 3rd, 4th and 7th grade classes in the buildings.
We also have a family gathering every other month for native families and students. In November, for Native American Heritage Month, we had a “Week of Heritage” and had dinner each night, guest talent, like a storyteller and flute player — it was all held at the school. This year the community, city officials, staff, Tribal leaders and other Native American Coordinators were invited to join us in all events.
What are some of the barriers your students face when it comes to education?
When I think back to all of my experience at different school districts, and even I can remember myself as a child, you sit back and you listen to what’s going on, instead of trying to be involved in it. Some of our kids feel this way, too. Thankfully we have programs like the “Native American Youth Leadership Academy” that helps students out of their shell. I have a couple of students’ give presentations after joining the academy.
I tell students that what you are doing as a ninth grader isn’t what you’ll be doing later necessarily, its okay to change your professions and ideas, but you might try it and enjoy what you do.
What does success look like in your role?
Getting those kids to graduate! I don’t care if you’re 19, 20 or 21 years old. It is important to get a diploma and go on. The competition on getting the job you want you will need the degree and experience. One girl was a freshman when she got pregnant, but we got her to graduate. She kept missing school, and before you knew it, she was going to be 21. I worked with her and the principal to get her there. After graduating, then she went on to college and earned her nursing degree and went to work at the Indian Clinic. I still run in to her once in a while. I was also able to see her son graduate from high school.
It’s important for me to keep in touch with the kids, and make sure they are doing okay, even after graduation.