At Beatrice Rafferty, culture is curriculum

PLEASANT POINT RESERVATION – The students at Beatrice Rafferty School take Passamaquoddy culture classes, learn the Passamaquoddy language and draw on the knowledge of community elders living on Pleasant Point Reservation.

It’s part of the 110-student school’s efforts to offer its students not only a traditional academic education, but an educational experience that incorporates the culture that surrounds them.

Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen visited Beatrice Rafferty School on May 25 as part of his statewide listening tour.

Beatrice Rafferty — which serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade — is one of three schools in Maine that receive part of their funding from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. While the federal agency owns the school building, a local school board is responsible for governing it.

The middle school-age students in Barbara Dore’s Passamaquoddy culture course recently crafted Passamaquoddy drums and, using the school’s Tandberg video-conferencing unit, shared their creations with students at Hancock Grammar School in Ellsworth.

“They shared quite a bit,” said Dana Mitchell, the school’s assistant principal.

This spring, Dore’s students are busy learning the Passamaquoddy names for locations around Passamaquoddy Bay. That’s because before they begin high school, the school’s eighth graders will take a sailboat ride around the bay with Dore and community elders from Pleasant Point Reservation to learn about the area where they’ve grown up.

Instructor Grace Davis works with Beatrice Rafferty students in kindergarten through fourth grade to teach them about Passamaquoddy culture. That instruction includes teaching students tribal prayers and songs, which they perform every Friday in the school cafeteria as part of Cultural Day.

Beatrice Rafferty staff members discussed a variety of academic initiatives during Bowen’s visit to the school:

  • Beatrice Rafferty teachers commonly use the school’s Tandberg video-conferencing unit. Fifth graders at Beatrice Rafferty recently used the unit to collaborate with fifth graders at Houlton Elementary School on a robotics unit, Mitchell said.
  • The school is one of 25 in Maine that received a federal Reading First grant to implement a school-wide transformation aimed at improving students’ reading performance through intensive training for teachers and hiring a literacy coach.
  • Article image: A student performs on a xylophone during a concert for family and friends at Beatrice Rafferty School.
    Beatrice Rafferty School students perform for family and friends on May 25, 2011, four months after the school resurrected its instrumental music program.

    It’s been difficult to sustain art and music programs at Beatrice Rafferty – a result of inconsistent funding and limited availability of arts instructors in Washington County. But in January, Beatrice Rafferty resurrected its instrumental music program — which had been dormant about five years — when it hired instructor Alice St. Clair Schuth to work with students two days a week. Students showed off what they learned on May 25 during a mid-afternoon performance that attracted hundreds of family members.

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One thought on “At Beatrice Rafferty, culture is curriculum

  1. I was glad to see that Comm. Bowen stopped by Sipayik and hope that he will educate himself about Wabanaki Studies and the State’s mandated commitment to provide access to the History & Culture of the Wabanaki in our classrooms. He is encouraged to contact any of us working on this initiative and get more information. Woliwon! Woliwoni! Wela’lin! (Thank you!) Joseph E. Charnley, King Middle School, co-Facilitator for Wabanaki Studies in the Portland Schools (and Beyond)

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