As a fourth grade teacher and Cultural History coordinator for Ross Lower School, Alicia Schordine helps bring the studies of early human societies to life for the students and community. School News recently talked with Alicia about the eventful school year and the most recent collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation on a traditional Native American garden.
Tell us about your role at Ross School.
I teach fourth grade and also work closely with the Lower School teachers to enrich the Ross Cultural History curriculum.
The fourth grade curriculum includes the study of early settlements and social systems, and the information about these periods is often the result of experimental research, because there was no recognizable written record for thousands of years. So we approach our studies as archaeologists, and we get “hands on” to bring history to life. For example, we had subject experts in survival skills and Native American flute making work with the students in the classroom to help them fashion their own primitive tools and instruments.
Another fourth grade tradition is the “clan baby” exercise, during which students care for an egg in teams to learn about how a society works together to feed, protect, celebrate, and mourn the precious young that represent the future of their community.
Most recently, we celebrated the Green Corn Festival, which was the beautiful culmination of our studies of the Native American tribes and culture and a collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation on the new Native American garden at Lower School.
These are impactful experiences, and I’m always impressed with the students’ passion for the work.
You recently received the Courtney Sale Ross Award for your achievements. Tell us about your research.
I’m humbled to receive the award, and I’m grateful to Ross School for providing me with wonderful opportunities to advance my knowledge and skills as an educator. This past year, as a result of the Ross Parents Association Faculty Innovation Grant, I participated in National Geographic’s Genographic Project and an online course through Oxford University in England titled “Ritual and Religion in Prehistory.”
Both were opportunities to dive deeper into the Ross School subject matter. The Oxford course was particularly interesting because my classmates approached the materials from the perspective of their own professions, including archaeology, philosophy, and religious ministry. For my part, I discussed methods to take the complex and mature content and boil it down to have meaning for nine- and ten-year-olds. I also gained access to international resources that continue to enhance our classroom experience, such as documents on burial rituals or the history of Stonehenge.
I shared a lot of this new knowledge, including my own database, to enhance the Ross Learning System and teacher resources for both Upper and Lower School.
This past spring, I also travelled to Cahokia, Illinois, and climbed Monk’s Mound, the largest human-made earthen mound in North America. I was able to incorporate this experience as well as the documentary from the site’s museum into classroom discussions of ancient burial mounds.
How have the students responded to the classroom studies?
It’s been a wonderful year, and I am always so thrilled to be part of sharing our important history with the students. My class really took to the spiritual aspect of their studies and surprised me every day with the depth of their understanding and the connections they make to the modern world around them. For example, on the bus ride to the Suffolk County Archaeological Association’s Museum of Archaeology and History for a recent trip, they saw a mound, and it inspired comments about Cahokia.
The concept of community, too, was big. We spent an entire year talking about how difficult it was to just survive, and it gave us appreciation for the amazing legacy left for all of us.
The lessons were also personal. The boys drew connections to the males’ critical position in the clans as providers and defenders. For the girls, the discussion of matristic societies was especially significant. In the end, I think the knowledge will help them grow into confident, self-aware young adults.
Tell us about the collaboration with the Shinnecock Nation.
Ross School has shared a close relationship with the Shinnecock Nation for many years. As a result, we are so fortunate to have members from the Shinnecock Museum, as well as our students and alumni who live on the reservation, contribute to our studies.
Earlier in the year, the students studied the ancient Mississippian tribes, and then progressed to the Iroquois and Algonquin, and finally the related history and culture of the Shinnecock Nation.
To wrap up the year, Shinnecock historians first visited the classroom to talk about the their ancestors, including their reverence for nature, customs, food, shelter, and medicinal herbs. Then elders blessed our garden, and we closed with the Green Corn Festival on June 17. It was a perfect ending to our year of Native American studies. The day was beautiful, and the students and Shinnecock drummers and dancers helped tell the story of their people.
What’s next for your summer?
Through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, I’ll be studying the Hopewell Indian heritage onsite in Ohio at the Newark Earthworks, Fort Ancient, and the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. I’m really looking forward to bringing the history and adventure home to my class and the Ross community in September.