In an attempt to establish consistency and accuracy in history classes, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) education committee and tribal historic preservation office are developing a curriculum on Wampanoag history and culture for the Island public schools.
On Tuesday night, members of the tribal education committee joined the up-Island regional school committee for a broad discussion on communication between the tribe and the schools. The tribe has 24 children in the school system.
Chairman of the tribal education committee Martha Vanderhoop reported that while communication between parents, teachers and principals with regard to students’ progress has been steady, she said the schools’ inclusion of Wampanoag history and culture needs improvement.
“History books are often not accurate,” Ms. Vanderhoop said. “So I wonder, how do you know what to teach when you are studying Wampanoag history and where do you go for your information?”
She reported that tribal historic preservation officer Bettina Washington and education program coordinator Allison Colarusso are examining the needs of the current curriculum and planning to reach out to teachers to help create new lessons.
Ms. Vanderhoop added that both the education and tribal historic preservation department want to make themselves available as resources for appropriate lessons and books in the schools. She also suggested organizing an annual tour of the tribe for the principals and creating a tribal resource packet for faculty and staff for more efficient communication.
One parent at the meeting expressed difficulty in accessing such information from the tribe.
Theresa Manning said her first-grader happily worked on a project in conjunction with the Martha’s Vineyard Museum that featured oral history from the tribe. When Mrs. Manning suggested her son’s teacher call the tribe for more information, “it got a little dicey.”
“Nobody is sure what they can say or what is appropriate for class,” Mrs. Manning said. “The information coming from the tribe was fragmented.”
“The reason it’s fragmented right now is because most of our history is oral history,” responded parent, tribal member and education committee member Neftiti Jette. “It’s determining within ourselves what it is that we actually want written down, and what is acceptable and what the membership wants.”
This includes input from not just tribal members with children at the schools, but from all tribal members on and off-Island, she said.
“It’s about finding our way back and finding our balance, considering everyone’s feelings, giving the school what they are looking for, and making sure it’s a respectful process all the way through,” Ms. Jette said.
Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss said after the meeting that the schools have no Wampanoag history curriculum now, although tribal members have made special cultural presentations in the past.
“But in terms of materials we can give to teachers, there really isn’t anything,” he said. “We don’t operate on oral tradition.” In other matters relating to the tribe, the school committee voted to allow federal impact aid money to be used on an ongoing basis to offset the Aquinnah school assessment for the up-Island regional school district. The federal money comes in throughout the year, Mr. Weiss said, and previously the committee voted several times a year to allocate the money to offset town expenditures. The vote allows the allocation to take place automatically.