OIEA Teacher of the Year
June 11, 2003 -- Warm Springs teacher Arlene Graham was singled out for the Oregon Indian Education Association Teacher of the Year Award at this spring's conference, but said she just considers herself part of the school's team.
The OIEA conference, which was held this year April 16 to 18, at Kah-Nee-Ta, is a gathering of Indian educators and non-Indian teachers who work with Indian children. Teachers from each area are nominated for the Teacher of the Year Award, then everyone attending the conference votes to select the winner.
Graham was nominated by the Warm springs Title IIV Parent Committee, and was voted in by her peers as the 2003 OIEA Teacher of the Year. "I think it's because I've been teaching for so long," she laughed, noting she is in her 29th year of teaching Warm Springs kindergarteners.
Graham grew up in Warm Springs, but attended grade and high school in Madras, "When I started, Warm Springs had a BIA school (Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school), and my parents wanted me to go to public school," she explained.
She was active in 4-H as a child, and as a teen got to travel through Europe as part of a 4-H excursion.
After graduating from Madras High, she earned a bachelor's degree in Spanish at Eastern Oregon College and returned to Warm Springs to teach in the Head Start program. Then she was approached to join the OSU/509-J School District Intern Program, which was trying to recruit and train more Native American teachers.
In the early 1970s, she became part of the intern pilot program, and the following year her current principal Dawn Smith also joined.
"As an intern I taught in Metolius and Warm Springs and got my teaching certificate, then was hired by Jefferson County School District as a half-time kindergarten teacher," Graham said.
At the Warm Springs School, Graham has served on both the school site council and Title VII Committee for several years. She also keeps an eye on school safety.
"She's been a real asset to the building, especially in her capacity as safety chairman. She has run the safety program for many years and has the safety of the kids at heart," said Principal Dawn Smith.
The biggest change she's seen in her 29 years at Warm Springs has been the shift under Principal Smith from teachers working by themselves, to working as one team.
"Now each grade level works with all other grade levels. We coordinate on the building plan and each see where we fit in to meet the goals," Graham said.
Goals include encouraging students to always do their best academically, and expecting them to be on their best behavior at school. Principal Smith's emphasis on getting behavior under control has really made a difference, Graham observed.
Kindergarten instruction has changed a lot through the years. "It's a lot like first grade was when I was a child," she said, noting kindergarten has become very academic and structured. Today, the children not only learn reading readiness, addition, write stories and learn social skills like sharing an getting along, but they also go to music, P.E., the library, and start working on Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM) goals.
"We have academic benchmarks for CIMs in kindergarten we have to meet, and we test them in the different areas," she related.
Other changes include going from half-day to all-day kindergarten, and the introduction of tribal language classes.
Every year the Warm Springs Title VII Committee does a parent survey of what they want in the schools, and each year parents always requested that Native languages be taught.
"It validates the languages we speak here as being important enough that we teach them in school," Graham commented of the language program that has been going for several years now.
She said her kindergarteners really like learning tribal languages and the cultural values taught along with them, and the children have performed Native language dances and songs at the longhouse. They have also gone on root digging field trips and the language program has gotten many parents involved in the school.
In her personal life, Graham's husband Michael works as a lumber grader, and they have two sons, Russell, who graduated from OSU and is an Indian Health Service officer working in Toppenish, Wash., as a field sanitarian. Younger son Craig is currently a student at OSU studying sociology.
In the community, Graham is a member of the Warm Springs Presbyterian Church and one of its ruling elders.
During the summers, she and her husband really get away from it all. "My husband and I have worked as relief lookouts in the Ochoco National Forest at Mt. Pisgah since we were married," she said.
Graham is pleased with her award, but noted, "My philosophy is that teaching is a team activity. It's the teacher and the parent, the teacher and the grade level team, the teacher and the building plan."
"Together we work to educate the child. I feel like I'm just part of the team," she said.