Y’át’ééh from the Navajo Nation.
Since 1997, Shiprock Coordinated School Health has used Sports Play Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) as an evidence-based program for physical education. In working with SPARK curriculums for 18 years as a Trainer of Trainers (T of T). I gained great insights into teaching strategies and modifications to make the curriculum K-6 and afterschool fun for children and youth. SPARK makes great efforts to make sure that T of T provides quality instruction to teachers and community members. Before I even stood before a group of educators, SPARK trainers reviewed my instruction and ensured that I covered all of the SPARK objectives in my training on Navajo and border communities.
After every training, I am required to have my participants evaluate my sessions with them. My first initial comment said, “You are boring.” The comment propelled me to improve my instructions. I reflected on the comment then realized that I was copying the Trainers of SPARK rather than adding my personality to the session. I knew that I can be fun. How do I create fun for my participants? Music was my first introduction to creating an atmosphere as participants entered the classroom. Followed by providing new trends and knowledge to teachers who are using the training for professional development. Then, I gained an audience who kept coming back for more information on making physical activity and education enjoyable for their students.
So in 2018, a high school student asked me to use my physical education (PE) class to do her senior project. She focused on using the Zumba dance to prevent diabetes in children. For two weeks, she taught the students how to do various Zumba dance routines with K-6 graders. I was surprised to see all students engaged in each of the routines. Students were enjoying the PE class before they went into their bilingual class.
As months preceded, I was asked to enroll in a doctoral program with Fielding Graduate University. Being the first in my family to pursue a doctorate was a dream to open a door for generations after me. With 1,500+ participants who attended my training’, I felt like I knew something about teaching and after observing a high school student engage students. It was pivotal to see a mentee make learning enjoyable and then I heard the remarks of the bilingual teacher when students entered her classroom. What made the bilingual class enjoyable?
Therefore, I was accepted into the Fielding Graduate University. Then, I expanded my thesis question to be “What effect does a 10-15 minute session of aerobic dancing just before 3rd-5th grade Navajo language class have on student enjoyment of the learning experience in the class and what can be learned by autoethnographic interpretations of the process and the outcomes?” Thanks to Dream Dine Charter School families and students, I was able to acquire evidence that a short period of dance before language learning increases the attention and enjoyment of early elementary Navajo students.
Telletha Valenski is Kinyaa’áanii, born for Hashtł’ishnii. She is originally from the Crownpoint, NM area and currently resides in the Four Corners area. Telletha has worked since 1997 as a school health education technician to specialists for Navajo Coordinated Approach for School Health at Northern Navajo Medical Center. She received her bachelor’s degree in Behavioral Sciences at Northern Arizona University in 1994 and continued her post-graduate studies at Harvard University, Northern Arizona University, and John Hopkins University in respiratory physiology to natural sciences education, and epidemiology. In 1995, while studying at Harvard University, she was awarded a “Certificate of Distinction in Teaching” as a teaching fellow. During her graduate work she was also a graduate student board member of “Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science” (SACNAS) from 1995-1997. In recent years, she has become a youth advocate on the Navajo Nation and Xela, Guatemala, College of Albert Einstein. Her passion is to continue empowering youth to excel in academics and to inspire them to give back to their communities.