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Cultural divide lessens through school exchange


Martina Morgan looked at Lauren Summers' woven basket Tuesday morning and noted some imperfections in the fourth-grader's weave.

Morgan, a parent and school board member of the Kashia School in Stewarts Point, was part of a cultural exchange between six students at the kindergarten through eighth-grade Pomo school and their host, the fourth-grade class at SunRidge School in Sebastopol.

"Sometimes life is going to get hard and bumpy like that, but you have to keep working with it," Morgan told Summers as she pointed to a wobble in the small basket in the girl's hands. "Understand how difficult that basket is, how difficult life is. It takes patience to make something beautiful."

Six of Kashia's seven students traveled nearly two hours to spend the day with fourth-graders in Sasha Prosser's class making felt necklaces, participating in physical education, sharing lunch and walking to the Sonoma County Library. Morgan and her son, seventh-grader Quillie, taught the combined classes a game of stick gambling.

The event, meant to be the first in an ongoing exchange between the Kashia students and Prosser's class, was suggested by Les Crawford, a longtime Sonoma County school administrator who now serves as Kashia's superintendent. Crawford is a former superintendent in the Twin Hills District, which charters SunRidge School. His grandson is in Prosser's class.

"It's good for our kids because they go to Kashia School from kindergarten to eighth grade. They are all cousins; that's who they see all their lives," Morgan said.

"It's good to let them mingle with other schools and other races so they know it's not just all their people out there — let them get more comfortable in the world," she said.

SunRidge fourth-grader Sakiko Pizzorno said she hopes the relationship means a trip for her class to the Kashia School.

"I want to see their school and I want to see what they do, how they do their studies," she said.

Tuesday morning, before the students from Kashia School arrived at the Hayden Avenue campus, Crawford and officials from SunRidge met with Cecilia Dawson and David McGahee from the behavioral health department at the Sonoma County Indian Health Project in Santa Rosa.

Both McGahee and Dawson expressed the hope that the exchange didn't devolve into what McGahee called a "dog and pony show" of "here are some real Indians."

But by day's end, McGahee called the exchange a success.

"In my adult mind, that was my concern," he said. "Kids take care of kids. It's us adults that worry."

Kashia teacher Amee Cabezut said she held some similar reservations prior to Tuesday, but those were eliminated by lunch time.

"To be honest, I was a little worried about how they might interact ... what kind of stereotypes they might bring into the classroom? But these are lovely children," she said.

Prosser said in addition to teaching her students about Native American culture and history, she has emphasized to her class kids are kids.

"It's knowing that they have this whole cultural background, but also knowing that they are children just like themselves," she said.

"You get these images of what is Native American, who they are," she said. "I just don't want that to be their only image of (who) native people are."

The success of Tuesday got Cabezut thinking about what is next on the as-yet-uncharted waters of the relationship.

"Now it's our turn to be the hosts, and we'll spend some time to think about what we can give back to them and what we have to offer," she said.

Kashia third-grader Tule Moreno has already given the next event some thought.

"I want to show them how to make baskets and (speak) the Kashia language," she said.

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.