Sarah Lewis

Engaging Elders in Elementary Education in Fairbanks, Alaska
Location: Fairbanks AK
Nationality: american
Biography: Sarah Lewis is a professional photographer who has served the Fairbanks, Alaska area and beyond for the past seven years.  She specializes in editorial photography, portraiture, and fine art photography, and has extensive experience in... read on
Public Story
Engaging Elders in Elementary Education in Fairbanks, Alaska
Credits: sarah lewis
Date of Work: 09/13/19 - Ongoing
Updated: 11/30/19
The 2019-2020 school year is the sixth year Jesse Hensel's first grade classroom has collaborated with the Fairbanks Native Association to bring the elders and the first graders together throughout the school year.  Together they organize potlatches, outings, activities, and celebrations that all the students' families are also invited to attend.  In the fall, the Elders took the class outside foraging for berries and tea leaves, teaching what to pick and how to pick respectfully in a way that preserves the plants for future seasons; and in the winter, FNA invited the class (and their families) to Fiddle Fest, the 37th Annual Athabascan Fiddling Festival held at a tribal hall.  The kids are encouraged to bring potlatch dishes that they have helped harvest and prepare themselves, which has led to jars of jam made from blueberries, highbush cranberries, and rhubarb; stews and pies made with moose or caribou; carrots fresh from the garden; teas made with spruce tips, Sitka rose petals, and labrador tea; and lots and lots of smoked salmon.  
The semester will end with a school-wide potluck in the school commons honoring the Elders and exchanging homemade gifts around Christmas time.  This collaboration brings education about Alaska Native culture and communities to the class in a personal, hands-on way that first graders can uniquely comprehend and appreciate.   Above all, the program has been an amazing tool for demonstrating social behavior and expectations, particularly when it comes to respect for elders, and how and why we respect elders of any ethnicity or culture.  
I will continue to photograph this collaboration throughout the year.  I am especially looking forward to helping the class make its gifts for the elders; last year, they made simple qaspeq garments out of t-shirts and hand-printed appliqued pockets.  They are brainstorming a new gift idea for this year, as it sounds like the number of Elders planning to attend the event this year is so unprecedentedly large that they would never manage to get enough t-shirts done in time.  Whatever they select, I'm sure it's going to be a visually rich project that the Elders will be delighted to accept.  

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