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Hope and Encouragement at the 2022 AICSN Summer Institute

by Collin Gortner

AICSN group photo with Dome in background

This past summer, the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN) hosted its first in-person Summer Institute since 2019, bringing educators from American Indian Catholic Schools to South Bend for a week of collaboration and professional development on the campuses of the University of Notre Dame and Holy Cross College. 

Hannah Johns, a teacher and administrative assistant at St. Joseph Mission School in San Fidel, New Mexico, said the 2022 Summer Institute created an amazing sense of hope and encouragement.

“It brought attention to the big picture reason for the work we do as part of Native American Catholic schools,” she said.American Indian Catholic Schools Network group holding a sign with their program name at Lake Michigan on the beach.

The 2022 AICSN Summer Institute was filled with learning and community building for 19 educators from all seven AICSN member schools. Participants took three courses during their time on campus and explored Notre Dame’s campus and the broader Michiana area. 

One of the primary goals of the Summer Institute was to provide AICSN teachers with opportunities for professional development. Trisha Moquino, a co-founder of Keres Children’s Learning Center and an expert in indigenous knowledge systems, taught a course on “Celebrating Indigenous Culture in the Classroom.” In this class, she focused on providing teachers a framework of ways to celebrate indgenous culture that included critical consciousness and celebrating students’ histories.

Johns said she enjoyed the academic focus of the Summer Institute and especially appreciated the “Celebrating Indigenous Culture” class. As she explained, the course was successful because of Moquino’s “investment in the subject and her willingness to share her personal experiences.” 

Another class, “Serving Diverse Learners,” focused on ways to best meet students’ varied learning needs. This course was taught by Tamera Miyasato, the founder of Ha’hanna Consulting, which provides professional development opportunities to schools, and a doctoral candidate at the University of South Dakota. 

Tyrell Andrews, who traveled to South Bend for the AICSN Summer Institute from Our Lady of Lourdes at Red Cloud Indian School, in Porcupine, South Dakota, said that this class gave him practical “knowledge to take into the classroom and help my kids.” 

The third course, “Catholic Identity and Truth and Healing,” was taught by Maka Black Elk, the Executive Director for Truth and Healing at Red Cloud Indian School. This class emphasized best practices that American Indian Catholic schools can adopt to address historical injustices perpetrated by the Catholic Church and the United States government against American Indian communities. 

Collaboration and Community Building

Along with its academic focus, the Summer Institute encouraged collaboration and community building. This sense of community motivated people to register for the conference, such as Johns, who said that a desire to build community was one of the main reasons she chose to attend the AICSN Summer Institute. 

Community was developed among AICSN teachers and school leaders through intentional activities, such as an opening Mass, tours of Notre Dame’s campus, a trip to Lake Michigan, and a closing dinner. 

Additionally, the instructors emphasized collaboration in their courses. Johns noted the instructors’ emphasis on community building. “The instructors encouraged folks to work together, collaborate, and connect,” she said. 

Moquino said that participants wrote identity poems in her class that highlighted important character traits and life experiences. Moquino emphasized the importance of this activity because the poems encouraged self-introspection and sharing the poems promoted community building. 

Andrews indicated that meeting teachers and school leaders from other American Indian Catholic schools was an influential part of his experience. “All the people I met are instilled in my heart,” he said. 

At next summer’s institute, educators from American Indian Catholic Schools will again come together to pursue further learning and community building through a combination of coursework and intentional shared time. This annual event will continue to foster collaboration among the teachers and school leaders of the American Indian Catholic Schools Network. 
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